Big Data for Cities of Every Size: Harnessing the Power of Smart Lighting

Lourenço Bandeira - Data Scientist Schréder Hyperion
Lourenço Bandeira
Data Scientist - Schréder Hyperion

“If you build it, they will come” is a great classic movie quote, but hardly best practice in civic planning. Cities need to be future proof: rapid urbanisation is happening worldwide and as humans increasingly choose to live in cities, urban spaces need to be adaptable. That raises the issue of coming social, environmental, technological and economic transformations, where planners need to anticipate and decide based on data rather than merely guessing in the dark.

City authorities have long been using the power of data to help them plan. Census results, traffic counting systems for roads, air pollution boxes and town hall meetings all help gather information about what people need and want. But what if the ultimate data collection system was already wired in along city streets? With the Internet of Things (IoT) now a reality, the existing infrastructure for lighting can be adapted to include sensors that can collect a wealth of data to improve people’s lives.

Smart Luminaires, Intelligent Drivers

Schréder’s Smart City Centre of Excellence, Hyperion, has developed the ZD4i series, smart luminaires with intelligent drivers. These are ideal platforms for IoT systems, capable of gathering information from on-board D4i sensors which in turn provide data for performance monitoring, asset management, predictive maintenance and many other tasks. A system which saves energy through dimming and reduces maintenance costs is obviously a good thing, but what if it went beyond lighting?

Schréder EXEDRA can collect data from sensors to provide real-time services for citizens

Smart lighting platforms like Schréder EXEDRA can be fitted with sensors to provide real-time services to improve quality of life for people and gather data to make better decisions. Wouldn’t it be great if we could automatically dim down public lighting when there are fewer people using the streets? Sensors on luminaires can use anonymous mobile phone data to monitor how roads and streets are really used, allowing cities to see traffic flows. With that information it is possible to send dynamic near real-time commands to luminaires to adapt the light to the right light level, regulated by European norms, which can dramatically reduce energy consumption.
At Schréder we are not only concerned about energy savings; our first thought is always making people safer. Using weather data gathered from street lighting we can predict when roads will have reduced visibility or a greater probability of ice and send commands to automatically increase the level of light. With access to data of street furniture, we can identify which luminaires are placed next to crosswalks and regulate their lighting intensity to ensure it’s always set to maximum.

Lighting a Post-Covid World 

In the wake of the pandemic, cities are acutely aware of the importance of measuring population density in real time. Sensors in lamp posts can monitor footfall: we’re currently helping one city in Portugal with a pilot project where the light ring on a SHUFFLE post will turn red once the density of people on a beach reaches a certain level, advising people to stay away. Gather data like this can help effectively manage a crisis situation, and be integrated to work with Covid tracking apps, for example, to provide insights. 

All of this can raise questions about where, and how, data is processed. It’s understandable that citizens or councils may want to keep their data local. So-called “edge” computing helps with this. When data is processed closer to the 'edge' of the network - where the luminaire, post or sensor is, it can stay where it's needed, rather than having to bounce information to and from a server that could be located hundreds of miles away. This also saves on processing time!

Fresh Thinking, Fresher Air

Between the iconic German cities of Düsseldorf and Cologne, the city of Langenfeld wanted to preserve its green spaces and high quality of life while overhauling its infrastructure. In 2019, it launched the “Future City Langenfeld” plan to deliver a better future through using technology to improve services. The city sees lighting infrastructure as the ideal backbone for its smart city initiatives and wanted to test them before launching at scale, so the local authorities set-up a smart city lab in Langfort Park.

The city of Langenfeld is collecting data from sensors installed on SHUFFLE columns to improve the quality of life for its citizens

As part of the city’s initiatives to become more sustainable, they wanted to avoid air pollution - as well as contributing to climate change, it has an adverse impact on the health and well-being of residents. The park is lit with Schréder SHUFFLE columns which include an environmental sensor. It collects and sends data every 5 minutes over WiFi, which is also installed in the post, to the UrbanPulse platform, managed by [ui!] - the Urban Institute GROUP to help monitor air pollution in the area. A year after the installation, both the city and the local community are delighted with the new infrastructure. 

Insights, Not Guesswork

All this represents a big change for the way cities work. With many authorities still organised along traditional lines or struggling to work out how digital can fit into the day-to-day running of the city, smart lighting might seem like another complicated expense. Nothing could be further from the truth: on top of the vast energy savings to be made from upgrading to LED and sensor-based dimming systems, the data cities can discover can contribute to a range of improvements. 
More and better data will help in the decision-making process to drive cities forward and create tangible benefits for all, especially as 60% of the population will be living in cities by 2050. Data can help authorities predict future trends, create new opportunities, generate more revenue and produce actionable insights - especially when shared with citizens. Smart, connected systems can create a way forward that goes way beyond lighting - ask Schréder how it could work in your city.

About the writer

Fascinated by science from a young age, after graduating from Técnico, Portugal’s largest school of Engineering, Science and Technology, Lourenço dedicated 14 years to exploring the geology of Mars and some of its Terrestrial analogues through both remote sensing and arduous field work (in Antarctica, Arctic and dry Deserts).
In 2019, he was one of the first employees to join Schréder Hyperion, our Smart City Centre of Excellence. He joined the team because he is convinced that technology, and in particular artificial intelligence, can become a major asset in addressing urban issues and making life better. He focuses on developing AI applications for Smart Cities to improve technology for urban mobility and smart public infrastructures, from ideation to prototypes. 

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