The future of lighting

The future of lighting

Lighting and its infrastructure have come a long way since the invention of the lightbulb. Whether capitalising on lighting infrastructure to boost public safety or fighting germs with specialised light wavelengths, it’s never been more technically advanced.

Public street lighting is a vital part of making a community feel safe and secure and so a crucial part of a city’s makeup. Yet despite this, according to Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group’s The Time is Right for Connected Public Lighting Within Smart Cities, one-third of the world’s roads are still lit by lighting technology that dates back to the 1960s.

As cities overhaul their lighting to update the technology it’s also being viewed as a resource well worth expanding on. For many years it was seen as a stand-alone asset, but recent technological developments mean it can be put to wider use. Key to this has been the roll-out of both 5G and the internet of things (IoT), which are opening up airwave transmissions with additional bandwidth.

Street lighting

With street lighting already being so well distributed it can form the technological foundation of cities around the world. Adding devices that collect data – such as sensors or cameras – this existing infrastructure could be the platform through which multiple applications are run. This could include environmental monitoring, public safety, smart parking, traffic optimisation, EV charging points, public WiFI, communication networks, digital signage and more.

The ubiquitous street light could well become the most valuable piece of real estate for the cities of the future.

Brian Buntz, writing for the Internet of Things Institute, neatly explained: “Lamp posts may well follow a trajectory similar to that of mobile phones. It wasn’t so long ago that mobile phones were suited for one purpose only – making calls. Now, making a phone call has become almost secondary to all of a smart phone’s other capabilities. Similarly, while the lamp posts of yesteryear provided only illumination, modern-day lamp post can serve as multi-functional smart-city nodes, capable of monitoring everything from crime to parking to weather.”

Safer driving

In the UK research has been carried out this year in to how intelligent street lighting could pave the way for the autonomous vehicles of the future. A ‘proof of concept’ trial into intelligent street lighting was carried out by National Highways over five months in 2021. When street lights on a stretch of the M40 motorway in Birmingham were upgraded to LED lighting, CCTV and wireless technology were stowed away in the street lamps. This additional kit enabled vehicles to communicate data to office equipment and tablets successfully. Following the successful Illuminate trial, street lighting infrastructure could be used to push out information on diversions, speed limits, incidents and traffic updates to autonomous vehicles, to help them better plan their journeys.

Lisa Maric, Innovation Lead for the Midlands, at National Highways, said: “These are exciting times as we progress on our Digital Roads journey with the growth of digital technology and the move to electric, connected and autonomous vehicles that will fundamentally change how we use roads in the future.

“National Highways is committed to ensuring we are at the forefront of this digital revolution and are preparing the way for the greener and safer roads of tomorrow.”

Boosting health

At last year’s Light Middle East event, lighting manufacturers were keen to showcase the health benefits of ‘human-centric’ lighting. Using solid-state lighting (SSL), LED and IoT lighting, brings several health benefits, as these artificial lights can imitate natural light to boost circadian rhythms.

Dharmendra Patel, Managing Director of Creation Gulf, a Dubai-based lighting consultant and distributor, said: “It’s only a matter of time until residential projects start implementing a human-centric approach with circadian rhythms to enhance the quality of life.”

We’re also seeing the benefits of UVC to create safer environments. Ultraviolet C (UVC) LEDs now have the power to disinfect surfaces and kill up to 99.99% of germs in less than a minute. While ultraviolet light has been used historically in medical settings, it’s only in light of the pandemic that UVC light’s power to destroy harmful germs – including covid – has been more widely recognised. UVC LEDs can be configured to wavelengths of 260-270nm, which is ideal for killing off harmful viruses and keeping people safe.

The future looks enlightening.