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Los Angeles Deploying Smart Streetlight Network

The city’s grid of LED streetlights are being fitted with remote monitoring controls that keep officials apprised of their condition.

by / April 22, 2015
Los Angeles is deploying a network of smart streetlights. Shutterstock

A project to improve lighting controls on the streets of Los Angeles has the potential to become an expansive, data-collecting network in the city.

The Los Angeles Bureau of Street Lighting has been upgrading the city’s streetlights to LED bulbs for years. But the city is also attaching mobile sensors to the devices, enabling them to know what bulbs have burned out. In time, officials will also have the ability to brighten, dim, blink the lights and gather environmental information on an area.

Currently Los Angeles has about 50,000 “smart streetlights” operating in the city, out of its stable of 160,000 LED lamps, according to Ed Ebrahimian, director of the Bureau of Street Lighting. The city plans to upgrade the remaining 110,000 lights with remote monitoring units and smart controls over the next few years.

Los Angeles isn’t the only government entity to explore turning its stable of LED lights into a smart network. The Port of New York and New Jersey has been working on a joint pilot project, and cities in Spain, Brazil and Southeast Asia have also been dabbling with intelligent LEDs.

The Los Angeles project should run approximately $14 million, according to CNN Money. The outlet also reported that the city has saved $8 million a year due to the LED bulbs, cutting energy use by 60 percent.

Ebrahimian told Government Technology that while energy conservation and financial savings are great benefits, the project is squarely focused on improving the quality of life in Los Angeles.

“The fact that we find out about lights that are out right away – I think that’s extremely important,” Ebrahimian said. “We have a lot of lights that can possibly go out in the city that people don’t report to us … so it’s really about customer service.”

Currently the “smart sensors” are chips manufactured by Philips. The GPS-based technology uses cellular networks to transmit information to the Bureau of Street Lighting’s asset maintenance system, which provides the data to Ebrahimian and his staff to schedule work deployments and generate reports.

But Philips may not always be the vendor Los Angeles uses for the technology. Every six months, the bureau reaches out to manufacturers about their latest LED bulbs, remote monitoring controls and sensors. And if a better and cheaper option surfaces for the city, they’ll go with that particular vendor.

Ebrahimian explained it’s his job to find “the best product at the lowest price,” and because the backbone technology remains the same, it isn’t important what company’s sensors Los Angeles uses, if it can populate the city’s database.

“As long as the information is accurate and it drops instantly into my service request system … it really doesn’t matter where [the data] is coming from,” he said.

Security shouldn’t be an issue either. The chips manufactured by Philips use “banking-level encryption” according to CNN. The system operates over cellular networks instead of local area networks, which should also help cut the risk of hacking attempts.

Ebrahimian said the city is always concerned with cybersecurity and takes it very seriously. But since the first 50,000 network-connected LED streetlights have been fine, he’s confident the system will remain secure.

Overall, Ebrahimian was optimistic and excited about the prospect of Los Angeles becoming a smarter city through advanced sensor technology in the next few years.

“I want those [streetlight] units to tell me about CO2, to tell me about noise, to tell us about the city as a whole,” he said. “It’s basically our eyes and ears all over. [The sensors] can communicate tons of information without a human being there to do the work. Those are the things we see in the future.”

Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.