How street lights hold the key to addressing many city issues

Fri, 2016-05-13 06:00 -- SCC Partner

By John Gordon, Chief Digital Officer, Current, powered by GE

One of the most fundamental missions for city leaders is providing infrastructure that allows citizens to live, work and play safely and efficiently. Today, we’re at the dawn of a new age in infrastructure — urban, digital infrastructure that drives a whole new level of connectivity.

Digital infrastructure allows us to see, hear, feel, smell (probably not taste any time soon!) key information from across the city. This infrastructure has far greater potential impact than the infrastructure we know today because it leverages citizen innovation to benefit the masses. 

We’re already seeing this at work in early stages. Roadway cameras help with traffic flow.  Environmental sensors check air quality. Microphones triangulate gunshots. Today, each one of these sensors is deployed for a very specific purpose for a very specific user group. The problem: it’s very expensive to deploy special-purpose sensors multiple times in multiple places across the city. Additionally, since each is deployed for a very specific use, they aren’t designed for broad citizen empowerment.

To truly propel economic growth and innovation, urban infrastructure must be easily deployed and open to all. Anyone can use roads and sidewalks. Water and energy systems connect to any buildings through utilities. Fire departments respond to all calls. Each is used for many purposes and therefore, costs are shared broadly. What if we did this with other city infrastructure? 

We need a conduit to broaden the potential and it already exists in something all around us every day — lighting.

Intelligent LED street lights incorporating microphones, cameras, public Wi-Fi and sensors dedicated to many can be widely and cost efficiently deployed. Plus, they can act as an open network for partners, developers and even citizens to develop new solutions.

Once cell phones added data connectivity, GPS, cameras and microphones, they became a platform for developers to dream up a world of applications — the ultimate edge device for consumers. Ubiquitous LED fixtures with built-in sensors, cameras and other intelligent components can do the same as the platform for industry, a nervous system for a city.

At GE, we’re taking this opportunity a step further by integrating data from street lights into our Predix cloud platform, allowing for robust, secure analysis that is both predictive and prescriptive. Cities retain control of what and how much data is shared with different groups, but once the infrastructure is in place, new solutions can be created much quicker.

One city recently asked us to analyze when pedestrians are in crosswalks to make streets safer.  We hadn’t originally set out to solve for this, but we quickly created new code – and we know there are countless more applications that we haven’t even thought of yet. That’s why we aren’t limiting the potential to our own walls. We’re working with partners and developers to build a robust app catalog to accelerate outcomes and encouraging cities to bring their own partners to build onto this platform.

The opportunities before us are enormous, but if cities continue to use technology to solve one problem at a time, it will be a miss. It’s time for digital infrastructure to impact cities as the open road to growth and economic prosperity. It’s time for a new age of lightbulb moments.

As Chief Digital Officer of Current, powered by GE, John Gordon is responsible for orchestrating enterprise-wide, digital transformation for commercial, industrial and municipal customers. He leads a team building and using digital infrastructure to unlock a world of Intelligent Environments and drive a new era of meaningful outcomes. Join John in an ongoing Smart Cities conversation on LinkedIn.