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Smart Sensing - There's something in the air

20th February 2018

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Mayors from 25 cities around the world recently pledged to cut their carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, with the aim to have a climate action plan in place by 2020. Stepping up climate action globally shows the impetus of reducing carbon emissions throughout some of the world’s most populated cities and there are several ways in which they can be monitored and further controlled – smart sensing could be the key.

As cities become smarter and more responsive, there’s a huge opportunity for city leaders to harness the IoT technology already in place in order to tackle the environmental impact of climate change. As most cities are making positive steps in improving efficiencies, via the introduction of LED street lighting, now is the perfect time to explore the possibilities of air quality monitoring systems and their compatibility with digitalised street furniture.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that street lighting columns can do more than illuminate streets and control lighting levels. In San Francisco sensors have been placed in lamp posts to monitor gunshots, which have drastically improved citizen safety. In San Diego cameras, microphones and sensors have been installed within existing street lighting infrastructure to monitor the way the city works.

Sensing the streets

Providing highly localised real time data, local authorities can use sensors to get a better grasp of many variables, including the air quality levels in public hotspots and population dense areas. Streetlights have the perfect infrastructure for their installation; not only are they regularly placed throughout the centres of towns and cities, their tall profile means that sensors can capture and measure a number of things from a single column, to get an accurate idea of air quality in specific areas.

Thanks to Wi-Fi and other connected platforms, this technology is able to communicate with handheld devices so local authorities can easily monitor and analyse the information that is generated quickly and accurately.  By assessing the data regularly trends can be identified, offering the valuable insight required to effectively communicate air quality levels with city dwellers, in a way that will resonate.

Communicating pollution to citizens

Where air pollution is concerned, street lighting sensors and supporting software could hold the key to how air quality is not only measured, but communicated to citizens. Using sensors to gather data, that provides citizen centric insight, means that climate change becomes a shared responsibility throughout an entire town. Giving citizens more control over their own carbon footprint could improve a city’s green credentials as a whole.

By communicating with apps or city notices, urban leaders can provide air quality information to citizens that reinforce the impact pollution has on their own life. By bringing the information into context, using real-time data collected from urban infrastructure, city leaders can positively encourage an entire city to act upon climate change.

For example, parents might act differently if they knew that the route they used to take their children to school had low air quality. They might choose to walk instead of drive to help reduce emissions, or the school itself might initiate a car sharing programme that reduces the number of cars on the roads in peak times.

Another instance could be the way in which pollution levels affect mobility. At particular periods, air pollution levels will naturally be higher; on the morning commute or on the school run. By only allowing hybrid or electric vehicles to use key commuting routes at specific times, with the enforcement of fines for those using petrol or diesel, city leaders could help reduce congestion and increase air quality simultaneously while encouraging environmentally conscious behaviour.

Endless possibilities

As Government plans become more focused on tackling climate change, technology will be a contributing factor to the way in which strategies are formed.  The autumn budget announcement highlighted key considerations for the Government – many of these in some way revolved around building a more sustainable way of life.

Smart streetlights could help to drive this initiative and ensure that services are enhanced, not only for city leaders and planners, but for the citizens themselves.  Integrating IoT and sensors within connected street lighting infrastructure that already exists means that resources can be optimised while transforming the lamppost from simple street furniture, to a valuable digital asset.


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