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New York's talking lamp post (and what it implies for your city)

Submitted by kevin ebi on December 1, 2015

GE has just set up a demonstration street light in New York that talks to passers-by. Yes, it's a bit of a gimmick — in actual deployments, the street lights will talk to your smartphone, not to you in person.

But it's a valuable gimmick. First, it's a terrific way to get citizens engaged and excited about street lights and, from there, about smart cities. And if you don’t believe people can get excited by integrated city services, just watch New Yorkers hug the street lamp.

Second, it's a reminder that smart street lights are an ideal on-ramp to a smart city. They're sitting there with full access to power and with locations ideal for communications modules, video surveillance, information kiosks and much more.

If your city is smart — if it uses its street lighting infrastructure to host a wide range of smart city applications — it will have happier citizens and higher economic growth. And at a lower cost, since it's always cheaper to share infrastructure than to duplicate it department by department.

If you're not already planning how best to take advantage of your street lights, then you're falling behind New York and dozens of other cities around the world. (If you need to catch up, consult our free guide to smart street lighting for tips and case studies.) — Jesse Berst

Talk to a street light in New York and there's a chance it will talk back. For real. And before you dismiss the demonstration project as a gimmick, consider the fact that it’s getting people talking about street lights and the Internet of Things.

Current, an energy startup created by Council Lead Partner GE, has set up the world’s most helpful street lamp in a New York intersection. It works a lot like a digital assistant in the current generation of smartphones, but the true power comes from its ability to pull information from city sensors and services and present it in a way that helps people.

And if you don’t believe people can get excited by integrated city services, just watch New Yorkers hug the street lamp.

Street lamp talks back
The demonstration involves an intelligent street lamp outfitted with a large video screen, speaker and microphone. As people walk by, an actor engages them.

After passersby get past the initial feeling of surprise, he explains that he can provide weather and traffic information, answer questions about the area and help them get to know the neighborhood better. The illuminating assistant can even help them find free parking.

Current had not trouble finding people willing to talk to a street light. Several even volunteered to give it a hug.

Power is in the integrated data
While the unusual conversation draws the most attention, the true power comes from its ability to pull together a wide array of information. And cities don’t need to individually staff street lights to collect and provide that.

The project demonstrates how a network of intelligent street lights can keep a watch out for available parking. Other sensors can monitor traffic and transit conditions. People and databases can provide business information. And a unified platform can bring all of that information together.

People may line up to talk to New York’s personable lamp post, but the platform can answer the same type of questions and provide useful information through other intelligent street lights that people would interact with through a smartphone app. While only one lamp post may be able to talk, through a cohesive platform, all street lights could have a lot to say.

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