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Smart cities need a smarter integration strategy

Russ Sharer, Vice President of Global Marketing and Business Development, Fulham, explains how streetlights can help with a smarter integration strategy.


The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to be a robust standard for streetlight and outdoor device management and has the potential to centralise system controls for smart cities. However, creating smarter cities requires a smarter integration strategy.


Any community seeking to add smart, digital systems controls is going to need a scalable, stable communications infrastructure capable of handling IoT data traffic. Installing smart outdoor lights with wireless IoT controls integrated into LED drivers is the logical first step.


The logical approach


Retrofitting a city-wide IoT infrastructure using a wired network is a daunting task, and probably cost-prohibitive and impractical. Creating a wireless infrastructure, however, provides more flexibility and extensibility, and streetlights would serve as logical connection points.


Adding wireless connectivity to streetlights is relatively simple and embedding the controls in streetlight LED drivers reduces installation and maintenance costs. Using a single device for light and controls simplifies installation and wiring and retrofitting streetlights with LED lamps promises substantial energy savings.


Using streetlights to create a wireless IoT infrastructure is a simple, elegant approach.


Of course, there are specific obstacles and challenges to using streetlights to create a city-wide smart wireless grid.


Streetlights make an ideal IoT wireframe


LED lights provide the perfect skeleton for an IoT control infrastructure. LED drivers contain microprocessors so they are programmable, and many can include sensors that can monitor and manage streetlights and other devices.


The biggest issue is real-world economics: it has to be financially viable to retrofit streetlamps with smart LED drivers. Streetlamps are a mature technology and they are built to last with a useful life of 10 years or more. To create a workable infrastructure requires replacing all (or most) streetlamps to create a wireless mesh network but waiting for existing lights to require replacement will take decades.


"No city wants to be tied to a single vendor for the supply of streetlight and other outdoor devices for decades or more"


Some municipalities are already adding or replacing streetlamps with smart LED drivers to improve public safety and cut energy use. Adding IoT access makes it possible to remotely manage the streetlights themselves, including managing power and troubleshooting.


Smart streetlights strategically placed throughout the community can also be used to monitor street traffic, measure air quality, assess noise levels, and perform a host of other functions.


Of course, if you plan to use wireless communications for device control and management you need to adopt an open communications protocol that can support different types of devices. No city wants to be tied to a single vendor for the supply of streetlight and other outdoor devices for decades or more.


To succeed, a smart cities system has to go beyond simple controls. An open, standard protocol provides a single language to control different devices, such as streetlights, traffic signals, fire alarms and more. It also can handle different data types for analytics as well as controls. Tying the infrastructure to the cloud provides ready access to different city departments and service providers.


Four reasons to deploy LED drivers


Using smart streetlights with wireless sensors incorporated in the LED drivers is the most practical way to create a centralised control system for smart cities. We have identified at least four reasons why streetlights are the perfect skeleton for a wireless control infrastructure:


  1. You can integrate the control systems you need. In the past, control systems required an expensive black box that had to be installed separately and linked to the lighting system for control. This was expensive, since the hardware had to have a dedicated processor, its own power supply, and required additional installation and maintenance costs. A black box also can be subject to vandalism. Integrating IoT controls in the streetlight LED driver simplifies everything. There is a single device that is already powering the streetlight and using a cloud gateway you can bridge to a central control system for monitoring and issuing system upgrades. It’s more efficient and much less expensive to operate and maintain.
  1. You are ensured protection from the elements. Embedding the lighting control network in the streetlights themselves protects the system from inclement weather and vandalism. All the key components are hidden in the LED driver. And since outdoor luminaires must meet strict International Protection (IP) standards, integrating the controller into the driver would ensure that those standards are met.

  2. You get greater reliability. While the LEDs themselves are extremely reliable, when there is a light failure it is usually caused by the driver. Using the LED driver to integrate the control elements also gives you remote diagnostics. Monitoring makes it easier to detect faults before they become failures. It also helps identify the fault so the repair crew only has to make one trip, since they will have the right spare parts.

  3. You get more efficiency with lowest standby power. LED luminaires are designed to be extremely power efficient, using as little power as possible in standby mode. When you activate a streetlight, the wireless control module is powered up first, then the LED driver itself. This results in a 40 per cent to 50 per cent power savings over conventional 0-10V dimmer switches.

IoT applications are going to continue to gain acceptance for applications such as smart city device controls. Using integrated wireless controllers embedded in streetlights will offer a variety of benefits. Once installed, the wireless infrastructure is readily scalable and you can add wireless endpoints as needed. It also gives you extensible controls that are simple to install and access, highly reliable, and energy efficient.


With all the potential benefits, retrofitting streetlights with smart LED drivers seems a worthwhile investment.


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