Docklands Light Railway eyes 'smart' emergency lighting

LONDON – London overground rail system Docklands Light Railway is considering deploying a 'dynamic' emergency lighting system that would intelligently illuminate the fastest and safest exit route from stations and other DLR property.

'We generally just do plain old functional lighting, but the last year or so we have been looking at where there could be an opportunity to do some dynamic lighting and we are looking at new canopy concepts,' DLR electrical and mechanical engineer Paul Meenan told a panel at the Lux Emergency Lighting Conference 2015 here today.

DLR has included the idea in a broader 'railway of the future' that it is investigating, spanning the gamut of digital technologies such as using touch screens for passenger information and advertisements.

'Part of that would involve... some dynamic lighting,' Meenan said. 'Not just normal dsicreet lighting (but) also... having some sort of green lit emergency way finiding that you don't see unless it's an emergency.'

Meenan said that dynamic emergency lighting at DLR is, at the moment a 'concept,' that will require 'finding the right approach and the will to want to do that.' He told Lux that DLR is eyeing Royal Victoria station as a possible first implementation.

DLR is also considering a general smart lighting scheme for the Poplar High Level Walkway, a curved-glass enclosed pedestrian footbridge that would change colours for special occasions, such as green for Saint Patrick's Day.

Smart lighting for emergencies is in its infancy. On a metropolitan scale, Los Angeles is considering flashing LED streetlights to show fire and rescue crews the way to scenes.

In a deployment more comparable to what DLR is considering, Munich Airport has for some time operated a dynamic emergency lighting scheme, said David Wright, chairman of the Industry Committee for Emergency Lighting (ICEL), part of UK trade group the Lighting Industry Association (LIA).

'Technically, it's very easy to do,' Wright said, noting that a combination of sensors detecting things like heat and smoke can switch lights on in optimal patterns and change the direction of arrows pointing out escape routes.

But users should approach such systems cautiously.

'Be warned, it's a minefield,' said Wright, who is also managing director of UK vendor Emergency Lighting Products (ELP). 'If you start to do something dynamic, something where you're actually directing somebody, you cannot afford to get it wrong. Direct somebody the wrong way in an emergency situation, and of course the consequences can be immense.'

Dynamic emergency lighting takes advantage of the digital nature of LED lights to receive information and respond accordingly. It is just one example of the advent of smart lighting that will become an integral part of communication networks, doing everythng from directing traffic and monitoring air quality to turning lights on and off and adjusting their brightness and colour in response to remote controls or to prompts from the internet of things.

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Photo is from Michal Rosak via Shutterstock

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Story updated at 15:35 BST to include Royal Victoria station and Poplar High Level Walkway.

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