LEDs drive 'smart city' in bold Danish experiment

ALBERTSLUND, DENMARK - A bold experiment to show how LED lighting can glue together the 'smart city' of the future began yesterday, as political dignitaries and business leaders officially launched a much anticipated testbed near Copenhagen.

The Danish Outdoor Lighting Lab (DOLL) will demonstrate how LED street lighting, with its digital and connected nature, can tie into urban information technology infrastructure and abet public services such as police, fire, emergency, health and others.

For example, a sensor that switches on a street lamp when it detects a crowd might also alert police that hordes of people have arrived at a location that's normally quiet. The sensors can also detect things like noise, air pollution and other factors.

Whatever the 'smart city' turns out to be, the companies and experts behind DOLL believe lighting could provide the grid that will facilitate it.

‘Lighting is becoming the iPhone of the street – you sometimes use an iPhone to make phone calls but you also use it for a lot of other, important things,' said Bas Boorsma, director of the internet of things at Cisco, which is one of about 25 vendors participating in the project in an industrial park in suburban Alberstlund.

DOLL is also kicking the tyres on the lighting itself, testing new lamp and control concepts and examining performance among a number of variables, such as in changing weather conditions and air quality.

But its overarching theme is 'digital.' Given that LEDs (light emitting diodes) are electronic chips that lend themselves to digital and remote control (which is what allows sensors to turn them on or off or be dimmed or brightened as needed, for instance), DOLL wants to extend that advantage into other urban systems.

‘We believe lighting will migrate from being a standalone solution to becoming a powerful system,' said Flemming Madsen, head of secretariat at DOLL.

Albertslund mayor Steen Christensen invoked a well-known technology business innovator in heralding the experiment.

‘To quote Steve Jobs, there are those who see what is possible, and then there are those who change what is possible,' he said. 'DOLL is all about changing what’s possible.’

Jobs, the late boss of Apple, was a huge fan of The Beatles as a model of collaboration.

'They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum of the parts,' Jobs once said. 'That’s how I see business: great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people.'

Given all the different hands at play in any smart city system of the future, then effective collaboration will indeed be crucial. Without it, none of this will rock.

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Photo is from Veanne Tsui

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It's been a lively international lighting week in Copenhagen, where two days ago all eyes looked indoors.