L.A. Has a Streetlight That Can Charge Your Car

A city streetlight pilot program is packing a lamp with technology to aid communications, as well as charging ports for phones and cars.

Sometimes streetlights are so much more than just a source of lighting.
The Los Angeles Bureau of Street Lighting — which manages some 215,000 streetlamps — is exploring a whole new generation of “smart lighting” that seeks to both declutter the street and offer more technology than has ever existed in a single pole.
The city has installed what it is calling a “smart node” on Wilshire Boulevard near the La Brea Tar Pits. The device looks a lot like a typical streetlight pole, but is packed with technology designed to support mobile cellphone service, surveillance cameras, and even electric vehicle charging.
“Streetlights were always there for lighting purposes, but in the last few years it’s been changing, because they’re becoming extremely valuable assets and infrastructure,” said Ed Ebrahimian, director of the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Lighting, as he explained the particular appeal of attaching technology to already existing — and ubiquitous — urban infrastructure. “And the reason for it is they’re all over cities,” he said. “They’re in the public right of way, and they have power attached to them.”
The smart node — as of today there’s still just one — is a test pilot being explored by the city, possibly with the aim of deploying more in other parts of town. It’s not yet clear how much a project like this might cost, said Ebrahimian. “This is just the beginning of something that’s really exciting.”
The node includes an emergency beacon on top that can flash different colors. Just beneath is an LED lighting fixture. The device also includes cellphone antennas, Wi-Fi capabilities, speakers to broadcast music or announcements, video surveillance cameras, electric vehicle charging ports, and mobile phone charging ports as well as a standard 110-volt outlet.
“The beauty of this thing is there is no clutter in the public right of way. If you had to install all of this separately, then you would have different cabinets, different poles and different attachments. All of a sudden you would have 15 things next to each other. But this thing brings everything together,” he explained.
“So everything is kind of embedded inside the pole,” said Ebrahimian. “The beauty of this thing is that it’s not overpowering. It’s not imposing when you look at it. But it has all the bells and whistles.”
Future testing could also involve plugging in any number of sensors, popular among city technology officials today.
“We could have temperature, CO2, we could have gunshot detection. We could have traffic volume information. There’s not a limit,” said Ebrahimian.
Los Angeles has already been involved in a citywide streetlight updating project, phasing out its old sodium-vapor streetlights with smart LED versions that use less energy and save money. Also, existing streetlamp poles are being replaced with "smart poles," which include 4G LTE wireless technology. The city has replaced about 100 of these poles and has plans to install about 500 in the next four years. 
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.