Bright Lights. Smart City. San Diego’s pioneering IoT platform

Jerry Bowles Profile picture for user jbowles October 30, 2017
In the age of Smart Cities the Internet of Things (IoT) and digitally-connected infrastructure provides first responders access to real-time sensor data.  San Diego is leading the way.

Historic san diego
The city of San Diego has begun a $30 million deployment of what it says will be the world’s largest Smart City IoT platform by adding 3,200 “intelligent nodes” to the city’s street lighting infrastructure that will collect real-time sensor data across the city.

The data can be used to develop applications that, can, for example, direct drivers to available parking spaces or guide fire and police to accident or emergency scenes. The open data platform offers virtually limitless opportunities to increase safety, optimize municipal systems and create real-time environmental awareness.  The city is even deploying a service called Shotspotter, that can detect the sound of gunfire over a relatively wide area and alert police. Said San Diego Chief Deputy Officer David Graham:

Repurposing San Diego's lighting infrastructure in a way that allows the community to put their hands on the heartbeat and nervous system of the city is our way of building a smart city app store.  We completed a pilot of the solution in August 2016, which showed us a glimpse of the technology's potential, and we're proud to announce San Diego's commitment as the largest digital installation of its kind anywhere in the world.

Graham said the initial 3,200 intelligent nodes across the city are just the first step, with potential to expand to another 3,000 sensor points later this year.

Bright lights, smart city

San Diego is working with a GE company called Current, which specializes in creating intelligent environments for commercial buildings and industrial facilities.  In 2014, the city was the first town to adopt GE’s advanced controls system called LightGrid to monitor and manage remotely the 3,000 energy efficient LED lamps that replaced its old high pressure sodium vapor lamps. LightGrid allows city managers to dim, brighten and check maintenance on the lights remotely through a single dashboard.

GPS chips enable officials to always know the exact location of their controllers and fixtures. Utility-grade energy measurement per pole allows cities to only pay for what is used, instead of paying costly fixed rates. Performance data can trigger quicker, more efficient maintenance that saves manpower. And precision dimming and programmable schedules allow cities to save even more money based on time of day and traffic conditions.

The city soon realized there were lots of extra benefits and services it could provide by transforming the LightGrid network from a single use light control application to a multi-application network and agreed to expand the use of IQ sensors and deploy Predix, GE’s operating system for the Industrial Internet, to process the metadata collected by the sensors to and turn it into smarter services.

In addition to the huge sensor deployment for the new IoT deployment, Current will also install 14,000 new LED lights in the city; around 25 percent of all outdoor lighting in the city. The upgrades will reportedly save San Diego $2.4 million in annual energy costs.

AT&T is the wireless data carrier for the project. All the sensors used will be powered by the AT&T LTE network. Intel silicon and IoT technology will sit inside the intelligent nodes to help extract metadata. The Intel Atom processor E3900 and Wind River software will enable the  underlying platform to run intelligent analytics within the light fixtures and extract metadata. In addition, several companies are collaborating on new apps to improve life throughout the city, including Shotspotter, a service that detects the location of gunshots in real-time, CivicSmart leverages, which data to enhance ton-street parking availability, and Proximetry, a San Diego-based company, which helps manage device applications throughout the network.

 My take

This is a bold step on the part of the city of San Diego.  Building or converting to a digitally controlled LED lighting infrastructure is becoming common in cities around the world because the savings from improved energy efficiency are dramatic and the financial benefits are easy to demonstrate.

Creating a multi-application network where the benefits are harder to quantify is a riskier use of public funds. But, the payoff could also be enormous. The instant communication at the heart of the IoT, where components “talk” to one another and coordinate based on a set of values, could deliver an amazing world where traffic lights could communicate with smart cars to find the best routes, weather sensors could prepare drainage systems for flooding, motion detectors could interface with streetlights to deter criminals, and solar sensors could communicate with a network of smart buildings to coordinate power and energy usage.

Kudos to San Diego for having the courage to test the limits and promise of IoT technology.  City officials from around the world will be closely following this project—expected to be completed in 2018—for guidance about how smart machines and big data analytics can make the cities of the future more efficient and more environmentally sensitive.

The only question will be how the expanding menu of Smart City services will work either alongside, as part of or subsume existing services like the neighborhood specific app Nextdoor, which is routinely used by law enforcement and some city officials to communicate with San Diego citizens.

A grey colored placeholder image