LED streetlights play digital detective in Denmark

Ask the average person to quickly summarise the benefits of LED lighting, and the answer could well be energy savings. But the digital technology will soon strut its other stuff as it helps detect everything from air pollution to criminal activity in a streetlight experiment near Copenhagen.

At least that's the aim in suburban Albertslund, where a variety of vendors and developers are outfitting lamps with sensors and controls that will not only show how LED lights perform in different environments, but which could also help support other 'smart city' functions.

'Really smart street light systems are going to be much more about the sensors the street lights have, than the LEDs that happen to be in them,' Robert Karlicek from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York said in a New Scientist story about the Albertslund experiment run by the Danish Outdoor Lighting Lab (DOLL).

The DOLL project is scheduled to open 18 Sept., when hundreds of lamps along 5 miles of road in a half mile square area of an industrial park will each have a unique internet address so that they can feed information back to monitors. Because LEDs - light emitting diodes - are rudimentary semiconductors they lend themselves readily to digital systems. 

'Sensors that track traffic density, air quality, noise, weather conditions and UV radiation will also be fitted throughout the site to see what sort of environment the lights are operating in,' the story noted.

Among the different technologies: Dutch firm Tvilight will test a lamp that changes brightness in response to motion detection, and the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) will power lamps with wind and solar energy.

One idea is to tie information picked up by sensors into other municipal systems. For example, 'If a street lamp senses a sudden rush of people in an area that's usually deserted at night, police could be tipped off to go check the area out,' the article said.

Project manager Flemming Madsen described the setup as 'a huge urban playground' that will attract lighting engineers, designers and officials from around the world. He said groups are coming from China and Taiwan later this year.

DOLL is a consortium of DTU, the municipality of Albertslund, and Gate 21, a Danish outfit that facilitates partnerships between public, private and academic entities. Participating vendors include Philips, Osram, Luminex, Fagerhult and Thorn, among others.

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Photo: Connect the dots. About 25 vendors, some shown here, are connecting lamps and sensors in a way that should not only cut energy use, but also feed other 'smart city' functions. Image is from DOLL.