What has IoT value - the pole or the light? (MAGAZINE)

July 30, 2018
Maury Wright deliberates on whether the lighting industry is fully aware of the need to deliver smart city applications and embrace IoT beyond the role of luminaire provider.

If you are a solid-state lighting (SSL) manufacturer, then you should hope it’s the luminaire that will bring value to Internet of Things (IoT) applications on street light poles. It’s been quite lucrative for outdoor luminaire makers to supply LED fixtures as retrofits for existing high-intensity discharge (HID) products so that municipalities realize energy- and maintenance-cost savings. But going forward, lighting manufacturers need new revenue streams that could come from smart-city applications enabled by intelligent and connected outdoor lighting.

About now I have probably confused you more than enlightened you, so let me explain what prompted this column. We recently covered a compelling project involving Current, powered by GE in Portland, OR. There were several major players involved including microprocessor giant Intel and telecommunications giant AT&T. Working as a team with the city’s municipal agencies, the group has installed intelligent sensors on street light poles that will be used to monitor vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle traffic to ultimately increase safety and optimize traffic flow for the residents.

That sounds like a prototypical smart-city application that many SSL manufacturers might one day have in their software and services portfolio. The application would run right on top of the basic intelligent-lighting central management systems enabled by street light connectivity that has been implemented initially to maximize energy savings through programmatic control and automate commissioning and maintenance.

But in the Portland case, the multi-function sensors that were based on Intel microprocessors and manufactured by Current were installed on street light poles because the poles afford the perfect location for the sensors and power is readily available. Now the sensors were mounted on the street lights as a matter of convenience, but realistically that would not have to be the case. Connectivity is provided via the AT&T LTE wireless network implemented purely for this traffic-monitoring pilot project. The connectivity does not provide any smart-lighting functionality or control and monitoring of the LED-based luminaires.

The Portland project is based on the Current CityIQ technology platform. When we asked if the implementation enabled control of the street lights, Current replied that CityIQ is intentionally separate from lighting control so as not to conflict in cases where a municipality has already installed control on the LED luminaires.

What does such a scenario mean for a lighting manufacturer? Potentially, lighting manufacturers’ participation in such projects is not required. In the case of Current, it had developed CityIQ and partnered previously with AT&T, so it still would win part of the revenue in such a project. But there is a significant chance that the lighting manufacturer could be left out entirely.

Now I think the Portland project is very exciting. It will afford a great learning opportunity in a real smart-city scenario, possibly proving actual return on investment for connected sensors on street light poles. But the SSL industry needs to work diligently to ensure that such applications run on already-connected streetlights. Utility Georgia Power, among others, has proven that connectivity and intelligence can be justified by simplifying installation and commissioning, as we covered after the annual IES Street and Area Lighting Conference a few years back. For a successful business future, the SSL sector must participate in smart-city application deployment.

Maury Wright,
[email protected]

About the Author

Maury Wright | Editor in Chief

Maury Wright is an electronics engineer turned technology journalist, who has focused specifically on the LED & Lighting industry for the past decade. Wright first wrote for LEDs Magazine as a contractor in 2010, and took over as Editor-in-Chief in 2012. He has broad experience in technology areas ranging from microprocessors to digital media to wireless networks that he gained over 30 years in the trade press. Wright has experience running global editorial operations, such as during his tenure as worldwide editorial director of EDN Magazine, and has been instrumental in launching publication websites going back to the earliest days of the Internet. Wright has won numerous industry awards, including multiple ASBPE national awards for B2B journalism excellence, and has received finalist recognition for LEDs Magazine in the FOLIO Eddie Awards. He received a BS in electrical engineering from Auburn University.