As we move toward better and safer infrastructure, propelled by projects and partnerships like our very own V2X, engineers and artists conceptualize and create unique upgrades for all parts of the smart highway. One part of the highway in need of an upgrade is lighting, and some cool and creative solutions are being developed to meet this need. From a safety standpoint, poor roadway lighting and improper maintenance lead to dangerous driving conditions and a higher rate of crashes. Not only are roads unsafe, but energy is wasted on unused roads and inefficient technology. Smart lighting may be one of the most straightforward ways to progress towards smart highways.
Smarter lighting is making the technology more sustainable. Since streetlights are long-term investments, much of the older lighting infrastructure has not been replaced. In fact, 90 percent of current lights are inefficient and wasteful. Streetlights make up somewhere between one-quarter and one-half of a city’s energy bill. It doesn’t make sense to run power on unused or rarely used streets at all times. Considering we can’t assume a street will go unused and shut off the power, some companies and countries are trying solutions that involve autonomous lighting and bringing the light to a different part of the road. In the Netherlands, “Smart Highway” has created and is piloting glowing roadway lines. They are made of paint containing photo-illuminating powder, which like any other glow-in-the-dark technology from our childhood, charges up from light (the sun) and at night glows for up to eight hours. The glowing lines aim to increase road safety by illuminating each car’s path, reducing gaps in drivers’ vision. Some paint is even temperature-sensitive, turning blue when activated by dangerous ice on the road’s surface.
The Ray and the Ray C. Anderson Foundation promote looking to nature for solutions to our problems, known as biomimicry. When considering how light is generated in nature, the firefly or lightning bug may come to mind. Fireflies create light when the chemicals in their tails — luciferase and luciferin — meet ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the energy-carrying molecule essential to cellular function. Exploring and emulating this chemical reaction could be a promising way to generate light naturally. Their “cold light” is the most efficient light in the world with 100 percent of its energy emitted to light, rather than a percentage going to heat.
Using other clean energy technology, groups see the potential of wind both for energy production and energy conservation. By including small windmills that could detect the gusts of wind from passing vehicles, the lights would receive a “yes” or “no” answer to whether light is necessary. Beyond cutting down on wasted use, future adaptations could include using those windmills to generate the electricity needed for the light to operate, creating a self-sufficient and closed system.
This video by Livable City demonstrates how their SmartLinx light sensors can be used to monitor air quality.
Many startups and companies are taking advantage of the existing lights by adding simple modern tech. Companies like Liveable Cities have created data acquisition platforms that attach to typical commercial streetlights to better track, understand, and operate the LED lights. This link includes some very intriguing and well-developed street lighting updates, like InteliLight — a network of smart lighting that understand its location and therefore adjusts based on the need for light at different times of day. So, each light post is linked to the overall server, which is an autonomous tech that knows more lighting is needed in the school zone during the morning while more residential lighting is needed during the evening. The InteliLight network also speeds up the maintenance process and reduces light downtime by notifying the system immediately when there is a problem with a light. Startups like this are creating streetlights that do more than just illuminate the bulb by adding wifi, motion and traffic detectors, smart parking information, EV charging, pollution sensors, and anything else we can imagine. Metropolitan areas will have the ability to decide what sensors and multifunctional uses in the lights would best fit their regions and specific needs.
Lit streets are safe streets. Better lighting on our streets will decrease crime, increase energy efficiency, and improve driving conditions. What do you see as the future of smart lighting, highways, and cities?