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Curbside Car-Charging and More Comes to West Hollywood

The tiny city of West Hollywood in Los Angeles County, Calif., has installed new smart mode devices that integrate car-charging, streetlights, Wi-Fi and more for residents to use into a curbside pole.

Car-charging may be headed to the curb.

The small city of West Hollywood, Calif., which is located in the Los Angeles metro area, has installed two multi-purpose devices that combine car-charging, Wi-Fi hubs, environmental sensors, streetlights and more into one “Smart Node.”

“The city is piloting these two nodes for a year to evaluate the technology and determine whether it makes sense to introduce them in other parts of the city,” said Francisco Contreras, acting economic development director for West Hollywood. Contreras has also served as the city’s innovation manager.

The nodes can accommodate small-cell wireless technology, making them ideal for the future rollout of emerging 5G tech. The nodes are provided by the company ENE-HUB, which funds and installs the devices, generating revenue from features provided by poles.

“Customers, including cities and other entities, partner with ENE-HUB to enable features and services that allow revenue to be generated from the infrastructure,” Contreras explained. “Customers sign up to subscription services for the features they would like, and can add, change or delete features in the future as technology evolves.”

A signature feature is the ability to connect an electric car to the charger while parked on the street. In many cities, chargers are installed in facilities like parking lots, garages or other off-street zones. The move is in line with policy positions by many cities to increase charging infrastructure.

“I do think we’re seeing an actual pickup in demand,” said Laura Schewel, CEO of StreetLight Data, remarking on the demand for both electric vehicles and their chargers.

Even if EV numbers are not close to the numbers of gas-powered autos, there are enough of them on the highways for motorists to take note, “and feel that they’re there. They’re not an oddity,” said Schewel in a recent interview with Government Technology to discuss a new planning tool developed by StreetLight Data and Siemens to help cities better plan where to deploy charging infrastructure.

Another feature of the Smart Nodes in West Hollywood is their overall appearance, where they read as attractive street furniture.

“The city is well-known for its attractive urban design and welcoming pedestrian experience,” Contreras said of this city of 34,000 residents living in only two square miles. “Because the city places strong value on urban design, we looked for street lights that are both smart in features and innovative in design, to complement the city’s existing streetscape and enhance the quality of life of our community.”

And also, perhaps because of its small size, West Hollywood has been able to test-drive smart city innovation quickly and effectively, making it a leader in this space.

“We are an ideal dense urban environment in which smart city technologies can test their proof-of-concepts,” said Contreras. “With our pilot projects, we also focus on providing our partners with insights into what works with their products and what needs fine-tuning before they release products or services for a larger market.”

Earlier this year, West Hollywood launched new smart bus shelters, complete with features like USB ports for phone charging, along with other perks such as high-resolution screens displaying transit information. Other pilot projects have involved video cameras and other devices to gather data at different locations to gain insights into pedestrian volume or how residents and visitors use public spaces.

“So while we get to benefit from cutting-edge technology, they [partner companies] benefit from getting real world feedback that cannot be replicated in a lab or virtual environment,” said Contreras. “And because we are nimble, we can troubleshoot issues much faster and can assemble cross-departmental teams within days as opposed to weeks or months as in larger organizations.”

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.