For a glimpse of the future, look at the cities of today.
The vast majority of economic activity, innovation, and energy consumption already happens in urban areas, leading 77 million people to relocate from rural to urban areas every year. The number of megacities (containing more than 10 million people) has doubled over the past two decades, with the developing world leading the way.
This represents an incredible opportunity: Cities are more productive, offering jobs, improved quality of life, and escape from poverty for millions around the globe. But the UN warns that urban growth needs to be properly planned to avoid serious issues like pollution, traffic and crime. Given the sheer scale of today’s cities, managing them is no easy task.
Luckily for mayors around the world, we are seeing Internet of Things (IoT) technology bring the urban landscape into the digital age. The proliferation of connected devices lays the foundation for the “smart city,” which features systematic data collection in real time. This benefits residents and administrators alike, offering instant insights and actionable recommendations that improve the smooth functioning of the city.
While this technology is more critical than ever, rolling out IoT infrastructure can provide a challenge. How can you place new sensors across an entire metropolis?
The answer lies in something unassuming and ubiquitous: the streetlight.
Intel has partnered with General Electric and AT&T to create CityIQ intelligent nodes, which fit onto any streetlight. These nodes can be embedded with a range of cameras, microphones, and sensors, offering the perfect platform for smart city features such as parking assistance, gunshot detection, weather monitoring, emergency response, and much more.
This February, San Diego announced it would upgrade 3,200 streetlights with the new technology, making it the largest known urban sensor program in the world. The city expects more than $2.4 million in savings per year in energy costs, which offsets the cost of installation through a 13-year lease purchase agreement. This experience is not unique—connected lighting systems pay for themselves twice as fast as regular lights.
More important, San Diego is establishing a diversified technology hub on every block. City law enforcement can use intelligent nodes to respond faster to emergencies, collect situational intelligence, and detect gunshots. Sensors have the capacity to collect traffic information, reducing congestion and offering data for smarter travel recommendations. Smart streetlights can monitor parking availability, help drivers find a spot, increase city parking revenues, and decrease the environmental and traffic cost of idling cars.
They can also collect air pollution levels on the hyperlocal level, using speakers or push notifications to send alerts to those nearby. Streetlights can be repurposed as Wi-Fi stations and include digital signage, offering new income streams for cities. This is just the beginning: CityIQ’s open architecture means that the possibilities are endless as smart city innovation continues.
With an eye on energy efficiency and cutting costs, many cities are already upgrading their streetlights. Cities can save as much as 80 percent of their lighting costs by switching to smart LED lights, which can dim during off-peak hours to conserve energy. Adding sensors to new lights is the next logical step.
Right now, only 12 percent of the world’s 300 million streetlights have LED lights, and only 2 percent are internet connected. But that’s changing quickly as LED prices have fallen and environmentally friendly regulations kick in. The European Union—the world’s largest economy—now requires its member states to phase out incandescent lighting.
Lighting has a long history of bringing social change. Beginning in the 16th century, streetlights were introduced in an effort to bring law and order to cities. In the 19th century, gaslights changed the nature of work by illuminating entire households, which allowed family members to labor individually rather than in groups. Today we are on the verge of yet another revolution, with streetlights serving as the backbone of the smart city.