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Intelligent cities

Why Are New Yorkers Hugging Street Lamps?

Hello, lamppost, whatcha knowin’? GE and its new energy startup Current set out to answer Paul Simon’s bubbly enquiry recently by installing an intelligent street lamp beside Manhattan’s iconic Flatiron Building.

The lamppost, equipped with a digital screen and speakers that broadcast the voice of a nearby actor, surprised passersby with weather forecasts, comments on their wardrobe and pets, and even provided some with directions to some of the city’s iconic landmarks. The interactions were fun, whimsical and even prompted some otherwise jaded New Yorkers to hug the “smart” talking street lamp.


The street lamps generate and analyze data that could eventually notify city dwellers about open parking spaces, air quality and traffic. Images credit: Current

More importantly, the New York street lamp provided a glimpse into how connected objects will soon help urban dwellers in the U.S. and beyond, particularly in high-density urban areas. GE (and presumably the lamp-huggers) is hoping that New York City, as part of its “Smart City, Equitable City” play for technology and innovation, will begin replacing its existing streetlights with smart LED lamps that will eventually become the nationwide standard.

The future has already arrived in Jacksonville, Fla., and San Diego, Calif., which have repurposed thousands of their LED streetlamps with real-time sensors and microprocessors. Powered by GE’s Predix cloud-based Industrial Internet software platform, the street lamps generate and analyze data that could eventually notify city dwellers about open parking spaces, air quality and traffic. The lamps can even communicate with emergency first responders before they arrive on the scene.


Light fixtures like this GE LED street lamp will be a key component of the “intelligent city.” GE brought this lamp to its Minds + Machines conference in Dubai last month. It has cameras to monitor traffic and parking, and a microphone to detect potential crimes. Image credit: GE Reports

Current also recently partnered with the public safety company SST, to embed its ShotSpotter detecting technology in the LED streetlamps. Once wired, the lights can detect gunfire in real time and alert police patrol cars and 911 operators, pinging smartphones with the precise location of any shooting incident.

In addition to making cities more intelligent, the LED technology is also helping them save energy. In San Diego, where GE has repurposed more than 3,000 city lights to GE LEDs, the city has realized more than $350,000 annually in energy and maintenance costs.

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