Smarter Streetlights Are Just the Beginning in Syracuse, N.Y.

Syracuse will phase out all of its 17,500 conventional streetlights for an LED-powered lighting network system. But the city also has its eye on pulling in data like never before.

by / June 11, 2019
Syracuse will phase out all of its 17,500 conventional streetlights for an LED powered lighting network system. Shutterstock/debra millet

A network of intelligent streetlights in Syracuse, N.Y., will help the city advance sustainability efforts, while providing a foundation for a wider deployment of ongoing smart city projects.

The upstate New York city will soon begin phasing out its 17,500 conventional streetlights for LED models, capable of communicating across a network, allowing for a more efficient control over the lights, as well as providing feedback related to operations or maintenance issues  

In time, the streetlights will support more than just illumination. Like many cities, Syracuse plans to use the poles to deploy other sensors and systems with an ability to collect, process and transmit data from the streets back to city hall. The sensors can be used to count objects like cars and pedestrians.

“That will be attached to certain streetlights, to be in areas where we want to get some sensor data,” explained Rebecca Klossner, a planner with the Syracuse-Onondaga County Planning Agency.

“We like the idea that this data can be edge processed. So essentially, the cameras can just look at who’s passing by on the street, and that can be turned into a count, and then all that’s transmitted to us is the count,” she added. “And that’s good for use, both for protecting people’s privacy, and limiting the amount of data we have to send over our system.”

The $32 million project will include smart controls rather than the more traditional photocells. The price includes buying out the system from the utility company, purchasing the new materials and installing them.

“We thought that was the best option for us. That’s going to give us controllability, and certainly, it’s going to help us with asset management, as we go forward,” said Klossner. “Having these controls be able to report us when a light goes out, or if there are other electrical problems, or when a pole is down.

The technology is being provided by CIMCON Lighting, which has partnered with about 150 cities, from large to small. The company has just introduced its next-generation smart lighting known as the NearSky Smart City platform. NearSky gathers and analyzes data related to traffic counts, climate, air quality and other measures via sensors mounted on streetlights.

“It turns outside things into the ‘Internet of Municipal Things.’ So this makes it very easy to deploy sensors, cameras [and] applications to run those things, like advanced analytics,” said John Joseph, vice president of marketing for CIMCON.

“So we’re offering cities basically pretested solutions for things like people-counting, vehicle-counting, air-quality, noise-detection, flood-sensing, all sorts of things,” said Joseph. “We make it easier to digitize the city.”

Syracuse is going forward with the lighting controller platform — rather than moving directly to NearSky.

“Their first step to becoming a smart city is to upgrade the lighting. Every light is getting some kind of controller, and it’s going to be managed with our lighting management system,” said Joseph. 

“It is a first step toward moving forward with the NearSky,” he added. “And so they have a lot of plans for that as well, where they’re going to be implementing a number of those solutions I mentioned — air-quality, vehicle-counting, these are basically for air-quality, traffic-management kinds of things.”

Philadelphia is piloting both lighting and NearSky. The pilot will involve 16 lighting controllers and four NearSky devices — which entails counting pedestrians and vehicles along with air-quality measurements.

Back in Syracuse, the city has experimented with other smart city applications related to water mains, and will explore other sensors to detect road conditions and flooding, said Klossner. The New York Power Authority awarded Syracuse a $500,000 grant to conduct a smart city demonstration project.

“And then we’re also looking at some vacant-house monitoring systems that would tell us when a vacant house has been entered, when there’s motion inside, if there’s smoke, if there’s water, so that we can send our police or fire department out before anything happens,” she added. 

Skip Descant Staff Writer

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.