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Illuminating the Future: How Streetlights Are Making Cities Smarter

Posted at: 02.20.2024in category:Emerging Tech
This smart city solution boosts your cell service, lights your way home, and fights local crime. Heather Ritchie from Ubicquia shares their smart city solutions for street lights and utility poles.

Streetlight with sky in the background Photo credit: Min An

“There are 360 million streetlights in the world, a billion utility poles, and 500 million transformers. The question is: Can you make it more? And our feeling is that you can,” said Heather Ritchie, Chief Marketing Officer at Ubicquia.

Ubicquia is making city infrastructure intelligent. From integrating 5G deployment to helping local police departments solve crimes with integrated cameras, the US-based company is transforming modern cities into smart cities.

A Bright Solution

How does a city know when a light goes out on an unbusy street? Where is the best place to put in a bike lane or change the speed limit to increase safety?

“We've talked with mayors [who tell us] they pay every year for people to drive around in a truck looking for lighting outages,” Ritchie explained. “Imagine if you put a sensor on and before someone calls to complain or before you drive around in a truck to go find that, you know when lights go out and you use taxpayer dollars in the most efficient way to maintain your assets.”

Ubicquia’s solutions plug into streetlights, utility poles, and transformers to give cities data on important factors in their neighborhoods.

“I compare it to a plug in your wall where you plug in your charger to charge your phone. We've got the platforms that plug into that.”

One of their solutions creates an intelligent network of streetlights. “Cities can use those to dim and schedule lighting to reduce energy costs, CO2 emissions, and they can do it because some of them are managing hundreds of thousands of lights,” Ritchie told us.

Ubicquia UbiHub platform for streetlights Ubicquia’s plug-in solution. Photo credit: Ubicquia

Fighting Crime

In addition to gathering data on lighting and traffic, Ubicquia’s streetlight solutions have solved actual murder investigations.

“Governments, businesses, and police forces are looking for a way to deter and investigate crime. So, we've been selling an easy way to deploy license plate recognition and situational awareness cameras.

“We had a customer that contacted us yesterday, about the fact that it helped them solve two homicides in the last month,” Ritchie revealed.

An Invisible Miracle

Almost two-thirds of the world’s population lives in urban areas. More people living closer together means more demand for connectivity.

5G cell towers aren’t the prettiest structures, however. Ritchie explained that Ubicquia recently partnered with Ericsson to create a 5G small cell to integrate into streetlights and boost connectivity more discreetly.

“This platform is nearly invisible from the street and that was the big thing that sold it to some neighborhoods that care about the aesthetics. It’s just a really elegant way to add network capacity in an unobtrusive way for the city,” she shared.

Ubicquia installing a radio aerial on a streetlight 5G deployment on streetlights. Photo credit: Ubicquia

Moving in the Right Direction

Optimizing traffic patterns and road safety in cities requires a large amount of data. Ubicquia also thought of how to gather it.

“The city owns the data [collected from Ubicquia cameras] and there are so many different data points on the various assets that they can use to make cities better,” said Ritchie.

“So it's things like tracking road usage, average speed, what type of vehicles are on it, cities are using that data to understand where they need to invest more. They can start using the data in different ways for more reliable service, better asset management, and public safety.”

The Slow Road to Success

Ubicquia has helped cities save over $7.5 million in energy cost savings and over 31,000 tons of CO₂ to date.

“The last two years we have been very busy announcing new products, evolving the street line platform. We won three of the five largest deals in the US last year we’re now in half of the top 30 cities in the US.”

“I think there was a realization for me coming in the door [as CMO two years ago,] that it takes time to set up a proper foundation. And we did that, and sometimes it meant we went a little bit slower at the beginning, so we can go faster now.”

“When you're just starting out, you know every single salesperson, you know every single deal. And I would say as a marketer, don't lose touch with that as you start to grow.

“And also, make sure that you have the right team and you're hiring in the right order. It's really paid dividends.”

An Accessible Smart City

While flying cars could be on the horizon for future smart cities, Ubicquia’s vision for the smart cities of today includes visible signs of progress and impact in cities.

“The Smart City could be anything,” Ritchie shared. “For us, what we want is the simplest path to a smart city. And we believe street lights are great entry points and incremental impact done in a really simple way is part of it.

“We're starting to do a lot more work with police departments. How do you make it easy to deter and investigate crime, particularly with policing shortages?

“It's so cities are more livable. And that they're using the intelligence and data within the city to deliver better services and better quality of life.

“It's just smarter, safer, more connected. That's what a smart city needs to be.”

Curious about what the future of smart cities and mobility might look like? Book your pass to VivaTech 2024 and join the conversation this May.

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