Mesh and street lighting

Bruce Leith

Blog by: Bruce Leith - 28 / Jun / 2019

What is a smart street lighting system?

What is a smart street lighting system?

 

Essentially, it involves a network of street lights – which may run into the tens or even hundreds of thousands – which are able to both communicate with each other and pass data on their own usage back to a central data controller. Furthermore, they are able to receive communications back from that central controller.

What does this mean in practice? Smart street lights can transmit information pertaining to their usage (when have they been triggered to switch on – that is, when did it get dark enough to warrant a light), their performance and condition (do they need a maintenance or repair visit) and even, theoretically, if integrated with other sensors, environmental data such as temperature or air quality.

If they are equipped with dimmers, they can receive instructions back telling them to dim or brighten according to wider intelligence. So, for example, a forecast of foggy or stormy weather could trigger brighter lights. A scheduled event which will result in an increase of pedestrians to a particular area can mean lights are switched on earlier.

In turn, these functions enable street lighting ecosystems to function more efficiently, saving energy when the weather or circumstances allow it, and for repairs and maintenance to take place in a more intelligent and resource-efficient way. Smart street lighting systems can even improve safety, by proactively lighting areas when they are in use by pedestrians or cyclists, for example.

So that’s what a smart street lighting system can achieve. It’s clear to see how such systems can improve energy and resource efficiency, enhance safety and the urban environment. They are an exciting part of evolving smart cities.

Now let’s look at the technology which enables smart lighting systems to happen – mesh technology.

Mesh momentum

A mesh network is a local network topology where each separate device within the network – in this case, street lights – is connected non-hierarchically to as many other devices as possible within the network. This means that a single break in the network – or the addition of further devices – does not disrupt data transmission within the network. Ideal, then, for a scenario like smart street lighting, where huge numbers of individual lights may be involved.

There are multiple different mesh protocols. ZigBee mesh is one of the most popular, whilst other organisations have developed their own proprietary systems. The organisation which oversees Bluetooth wireless communication protocols issued a standard for meshing Bluetooth devices – including LED lights – back in 2017. Bluetooth is a particularly useful protocol for wireless lighting controls because it is open, and so it is possible to choose from multiple vendors. It can be extended to cover a range of different lighting installations, and is also well-documented and defined.

A smart street lighting system, then, consists of the street lights themselves, typically now LED lights for drastically improved energy efficiency and dimming and brightening capabilities, the mesh topology, a data concentrator, which controls the street lights and reports back to the host system, and said host system. This is a back office application, tailored to the needs of the organisation in question, which is in control of elements like reports, workforce management and network control.

Smart street lighting systems are still in relative infancy, but they are likely to be a key component of the smart cities of the future. Just another way in which the IoT is driving exciting innovation.

 

Topics: IoT, connectivity, mesh

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