Panasonic, Silver Spring set to really push street lights beyond illumination in Denver. Really.

Jan. 10, 2017
Many IoT street lighting projects deliver smart lighting but little else for now. This one could actually soon monitor air, park cars, transmit Wi-Fi, and more.

Many IoT street lighting projects deliver smart lighting but little else for now. This one could actually soon monitor air, park cars, transmit Wi-Fi, and more.

A Denver partnership between a Panasonic technology group and the outdoor wireless networking specialist Silver Spring Networks could lead to one of the first intelligent street lighting systems in which the lighting infrastructure genuinely serves purposes that stretch beyond illumination, including air quality control, parking assistance, Wi-Fi, and more.

Interested in articles & announcements on smart street lighting & smart city technology?

Panasonic CityNOW said last week that it has tapped Silver Spring to help broaden the usefulness of the LED street lights at a 400-acre smart city enclave under development by Panasonic and other companies near Denver International Airport. Silver Spring is connecting the lights with its Starfish mesh technology, based on the IPv6 Internet protocol.

The two companies announced their joint effort at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where they said that Panasonic CityNOW will now offer Starfish and the Silver Spring Streetlight.Vision (SLV6) management software to other cities and utilities as part of its portfolio.

Many smart street lighting projects around the world are retrofits, and while they aim to ultimately provide non-illumination functions, they focus initially on lighting issues such as remote control of levels, and remote monitoring to help spot outages.

Denver's Peña Station NEXT development will feature smart lighting, a smart solar-and-battery powered electricity grid, a driverless shuttle, and more. (Source: Panasonic.)

But as part of the new residential and commercial development underway in Denver called Peña Station NEXT, the street lights look set to include wide functionality from the outset in a rich Internet of Things (IoT) play.

The Denver Post reported last month — prior to the Silver Spring announcement — that Panasonic was already installing street-light gear that can provide environmental sensing, parking, and traffic information, and public Wi-Fi transmission.

The newspaper wrote that a sensor-equipped “Fitbit for cities” was due as soon as this month from the US Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory. “This device monitors air particles, solar cloud coverage, noise, temperature and humidity,” the Post reported. “Also, it can count cars and people to help with parking and traffic flow.”

It added that Panasonic would switch on street-light-mounted Wi-Fi transmission by March. Panasonic is using street lights from four different vendors.

In a joint statement at CES, the two companies noted, “The alliance between Panasonic and Silver Spring Networks supports CityNOW’s Safe and Smart Streets initiative, which turns a single-use asset often considered a liability — the street light — into a multi-use, highly valuable asset. The street light pole becomes the host for multiple smart and sustainable technologies with cross-cutting benefits: controllable smart LED lights that save energy and operations and management costs, community Wi-Fi, environmental sensing (for example temperature, air quality, light intensity), video cameras for public safety and parking/traffic management.”

San Jose, CA-based Silver Spring is the latest known addition at Peña Station NEXT. Panasonic has for over a year been co-developing a technology initiative there that includes solar-charged batteries to supply a small electricity grid, developed by utility Xcel Energy. Peña Station will also feature a 12-person driverless shuttle to take people to and from Panasonic offices and the train station, which is one stop from the airport and about 20 minutes from downtown's Union Station.

Panasonic opened new offices at the location in September, drawing electricity from solar panels by day and from batteries by night. Panasonic CityNOW and its parent Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Company are the anchor tenants at Peña, and are currently its only occupants. Property developer L.C. Fulenwider plans to add more commercial offices, homes, retailers, and hotels to the site, which backers hail as “a living lab.” Real estate company MGL plans to soon break ground on a 219-unit apartment facility.

Peña Station is based on a smart community that Panasonic built in Fujisawa, Japan on the site of a former Panasonic factory in the company's home country. The Fujisawa project emphasizes shared vehicles and public transportation; furnishes energy via solar, fuel cells, and batteries; and uses street lights to house cameras watching people's movements, although not for environmental sensing.

The Denver Post quoted a Denver councilwoman noting that not all aspects of Fujisawa would translate to Peña Station.

“Cameras on street lights? There’s a certain amount of privacy that we all want to feel like we have,” councilwoman Stacie Gilmore told the Post. “But the technology [lets parents allow] a child to go to a playground and play and they can see them [remotely]. We’ll have to be considerate of what people like and don’t like and how to move forward.”

Panasonic CityNOW specializes in smart city planning and technology integration in mobility, clean energy, city services, buildings, and health and wellness. It claims to have “over 24.9 million enabled devices delivered on five continents.” Other sites include Berlin, Singapore, and Lyon.

Panasonic and Silver Spring did not reveal the cost of the Silver Spring smart lighting, or say who will pay for them and how. Silver Spring typically provides its Starfish mesh network and Silver Spring's Streetlight.Vision (SLV6) management software on a service basis, charging per device, such as in a deal with the city of Providence, RI last summer in which Providence retains ownership of the lights.

Peña Station NEXT's other backers include the City and County of Denver, Denver International Airport, Xcel, and Fulenwider.

MARK HALPERis a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).

About the Author

Mark Halper | Contributing Editor, LEDs Magazine, and Business/Energy/Technology Journalist

Mark Halper is a freelance business, technology, and science journalist who covers everything from media moguls to subatomic particles. Halper has written from locations around the world for TIME Magazine, Fortune, Forbes, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, CBS, Wired, and many others. A US citizen living in Britain, he cut his journalism teeth cutting and pasting copy for an English-language daily newspaper in Mexico City. Halper has a BA in history from Cornell University.