The primary function of public light-ing has always been to create the lighting conditions specified by the norms and legislation in public spaces in reduced visibility and at night. With the emergence of new technologies and in the transformation process of cities into smart cities, we find that public lighting can play a significant role in other important areas as well.
We have not had great expectations from public lighting until recent times. Perhaps just to illuminate as it is supposed to, when it is supposed to and, if possible, in a cost-effi-cient manner. And so far this is still the case in many cities and municipalities. At a prede-termined time, the ‘light switch’ is switched on, the lights light up and they remain on for as long as lighting is needed. Meanwhile we can, and we should, require a lot more from high-quality lighting, such as suitable lighting parameters, a good design, an efficient cooling, an adequate quality of emitted light and sophisticated control. And this disposition currently is often lack-ing in public lighting systems. In a better case, although lights are equipped with dimmable ballasts, they can be as-signed a certain lighting profile or can be adjusted already in the production so as to increase or decrease the lighting intensity at a predetermined time. But that does not go far enough to reflect the needs of a city, because each district, street or other public space may have completely different or specific needs in terms of quality and intensity of lighting. The only way to respond to these needs is to shift public lighting from the standard category to the smart category.
Smart City and Smart Lighting Have a Close Relationship
Or simplified: an IoT-node-equipped light which serves both as a signal transmitter and a receiver via a wired or wireless technology and is capable of two-way communication. If public lighting consists of smart lights capable of communicating (transmitting and receiving a signal), it not only provides a con-tinuous view of the input power, consumption, output power, and condition or possible malfunction of each individual light; it is also possible to control it remotely. From a practical stand-point, this means that by replacing standard lights with smart ones, we obtain a lighting system that will allow us to create any groups of lights that are able to adapt to the needs of individual parts of the city at a required time and without the need to lay hundreds of metres of additional cabling. At most it will require replacing the switchgear or reconstructing it to become a ‘smart’ switch-gear. Such a system of public lighting can be centrally managed and relevant data from it can be obtained. In addition, it creates the basis or infrastructure for other functionalities that are part of the ‘smart’ city concept.
Let me state that ‘smart lighting’ itself (a system of public light-ing consisting of centrally controlled IoT lights) is not the only necessary condition for us to build smart cities. The smart city concept covers many other areas such as safety, traffic fluency, availability of parking, air quality control, service transparency, e-mobility, waste management, navigation within the city and so on. Here, the meaning of the word infrastructure is coming to the fore. Imagine it as a system of fixed points connected to the power grid that creates a capacity for adding other devices and accumulating features, and you will quickly find that no such other network currently exists as the existing public lighting systems.
In this context – both conceptually and technologically – we are entering the next level of looking at the role of lighting in smart cities. We begin to think of it as a system of multiple intercon-nected areas managed by a common software (platform). Due to the complexity of the connections, it is now clear that they will be monitored and directed by artificial intelligence. This type of technological correlation in complex platforms is called interop-erability and will be (in fact it is already) a key element necessary for the physical functioning of a smart city.
From Smart Lighting to Interoperability
We have a smart light. We have a column. We can integrate a sensor in the light and a camera, a weather station, a traf-fic density sensor, an electric car charger, an SOS message intercom, and anything into the column or on the column that can be powered from it. Now let‘s imagine that we will make all the aggregated technologies come alive and each one will begin to fulfil its function. The light illuminates, the camera captures the image, the sensor measures, the weather station monitors wind speed, air quality, the charger recharges, and so on. And, of course, each of these technologies sends information by wire or wireless technology to the data centre where they are collected, processed, sorted, analysed and used as the basis for corrective measures. Now let‘s go further and imagine that all the technologies will interact with each other in real time – for example, in a critical situation such as a traffic accident at night. When the camera, which records it automatically, sends a signal to the control unit to increase the light intensity at the traffic accident site, it also sends the signal to the rescue units, sends them information on the shortest route, secures them a smooth crossroad crossing (green wave) and continuously transmits a video to them of the traffic accident site, while the drivers in the vicinity receive a message through an application or SMS notification. And while all of this is already in motion, the camera is capturing the accident scene and the medical staff is instruct-ing people at the accident site via the SOS intercom integrated in the column on how to provide first aid. We are talking about interoperability that includes (and will increasingly in the near future) artificial intelligence.
A Third Era in Lighting
After replacing standard lights for smart lights, we will be ready to launch a third era in lightning based on interoperabil-ity. And that‘s what drives us to the idea that lighting, as we know it today, is ceasing to exist. Its primary role i.e. to provide sufficient lighting on roads and public spaces is of course preserved. At the same time, however, the position of the infrastructure is gradually becoming a part and the corner-stone of a complex platform on which smart cities will grow. Its dimensions, the range of all the features that it can provide in cities in the future, as well as its ability to ‘learn’ is still only a matter of projections today. It is certain, however, that the benefits are going to be felt by municipalities, cities and their inhabitants as well.
Author: Tomáš Hutta, CitySys