Streetlights. People. Living Just to Find Transformation.

General Electric plans to use streetlights to help lay the groundwork for the intelligent cities of tomorrow.

As one of General Electric’s oldest businesses, street lighting has become incrementally more efficient, but has not been radically transformed since the conversion from oil to electricity. However, these omnipresent beacons promise to help create the smarter and more efficient cities of tomorrow. In order to meet the new challenges and opportunities enabled by the Internet of Things, last year GE formed Current, which combines lighting and other technologies focused on energy efficiency with Predix, GE’s cloud-based industrial internet operating system.[1] Like other GE businesses, Current is attempting to turn what were once sold as products into services. Instead of just selling street lights for example, Current provides a holistic service to increase energy efficiency by pairing more efficient LED lights with sensors and connectivity, allowing better management of usage.[2] Last year, the city of Oceanside, California spent $5M to replace old roadway lighting with LED lighting with GE’s LightGrid Outdoor Wireless Controls. The system allows the city to monitor and control the operational status of each light fixture through a web-based interface. The added operational efficiency is expected to result in about $600K savings per year.[3]

The impact of connectivity goes far beyond just energy efficiency though. GE Current envisions street lighting as a critical part of the digital infrastructure of intelligent cities. The vast and ubiquitous distribution of street lights in many ways provides the ideal platform to embed various sensors throughout cities. By connecting these sensors to Predix, municipal authorities can harness this network in order to gather real-time information to help keep cities running smoothly. Starting last year, GE launched a pilot of its Intelligent Cities Platform in partnership with the cities of San Diego, California and Jacksonville, Florida. In addition to upgrading streetlights with more efficient LED lighting, GE installed additional sensors, which when connected to Predix, aim to provide enhanced lighting control, traffic and parking optimization, and environmental monitoring and analysis.[4] Future iterations could have far more capabilities. Sensors built into street lights may be able to detect and direct drivers to available parking spots. Thermometers and humidity gauges will help monitor the weather, and embedded speaker systems could provide warnings of hazardous conditions. GE has also established a partnership with SST, Inc. to deploy its ShotSpotter technology on LED light fixtures. ShotSpotter uses acoustic sensors and software to detect and locate gunshots, and then transmits this information to local authorities.[5] Embedded video sensors could provide a range of benefits, from traffic monitoring to public safety, but would also of course raise many privacy concerns.

These vast sensor networks would potentially push vast amounts of raw data to cloud-based Predix, which could be problematic. To address this issue, GE is partnering with Intel to develop edge processing. Under this arrangement, some of the initial processing would take place at the light fixture, reducing some of the burden on cloud computing software. This will be especially important for applications like video, which produce large amounts of data and require extensive processing.[6]

By selling data and analytics on top of streetlights, GE will be able to generate recurring revenue rather than just one-time sales.[7] Using street lighting to embed a network of sensors connected to cloud computing software will help cities use less energy, better monitor conditions, and provide basic and critical services more quickly and efficiently. The challenge for Current will be to convince municipal governments with shrinking budgets to invest in these new capabilities. However, given the promise they hold, the future looks bright for GE.

 

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[1] Katherine, Tweed, “GE Launches $1B Energy Services Company, Current,” Greentech Media, https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/ge-launches-1b-energy-services-company-current, Accessed November 2016.

[2] Stacey Higginbotham, “GE’s New Current Gives the Internet of Things a Jolt of Energy,” Fortune, http://fortune.com/2015/10/07/ge-current/, Accessed November 2016.

[3] GE company website, http://www.gelighting.com/LightingWeb/na/case-studies/index.jsp, accessed November 2016.

[4] GE company website, https://www.ge.com/digital/stories/ge-announces-programs-intelligent-cities-both-us-coasts-it-pilots-new-connected-led-solution, accessed November 2016.

[5] SST, Inc. company website, http://www.shotspotter.com/news/article/ge-lighting-and-shotspotter-announce-mou-to-bring-gunshot-detection-to-lumi, Accessed November 2016.

[6] Teresa Meek, “What Happens to Communities when Streetlights Join the Internet of Things,” Forbes, http://www.forbes.com/sites/inteliotpartnership/2016/11/01/what-happens-to-communities-when-streetlights-join-the-internet-of-things/#7ece86ad6b47, Accessed November 2016.

[7] Ron Miller, “GE Spotlights New Smart Street Lamps,” TechCrunch, https://techcrunch.com/2015/04/16/ge-spotlights-new-smart-street-lamps/, Accessed November 2016.

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3 thoughts on “Streetlights. People. Living Just to Find Transformation.

  1. Really interesting topic – given that street lights are everywhere in cities, it would make sure to use them as a dynamic beacon as opposed to just providing light. Another use that I thought of was to build wifi service or increased cellular signal capabilities for cities to provide extra connectivity to their citizens.

  2. GE has understood that LED lights have become commoditized. How do we get from a commoditized product into a value added product? GE has identified that providing real time information from sensors such as occupancy sensors can help cities have better planning. GE’s partnerships with cities is increasingly interesting from a urban development standpoint.

    I am curious to view how GE positions itself with cities in order for mass adoption of this technology. – Working with elected goverments is hard given that they want to see results in a short term. Obtaining data and doing urban plans take more than 4 years, the usual term length of a mayor in a city. How can GE develop an economic model that overcomes this barrier?

  3. Great post, thank you!
    Although this seems as an exciting new product, I am skeptical, apart from the aforementioned privacy concern, on two elements: scalability, maintenance
    1. Scalability: given the increased price, municipalities (esp. outside the US) are highly unlikely to adopt the measure – at least without trialability or financial support (from GE, government, etc.). Has GE accounted for this element and if yes, how?
    2. Maintenance: Given the high cost of the product, how often do we need to replace? Does this make sense compared to the current bulb prices? Additionally, how durable is it?

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