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German city lets residents control the streetlights

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30 August 2022

by Sarah Wray

A pilot project in Bad Hersfeld, Germany invited residents to tweak the streetlight settings to meet their personal preferences, whether to reduce brightness outside their bedroom window or turn up the illumination while out walking in the evening.

It also showcased a new approach to data management for cities.

The initiative is part of a project with [ui!] Urban Lighting Innovations alongside Deutsche Bank and Microsoft to develop and trial an advanced smart streetlighting system for the 30,000-population spa town.

Mayor Thomas Fehling said the municipality was getting more complex requests for streetlight management related to weather, traffic safety, insect protection, light pollution and energy reduction.

“We realised that we needed to see every single lamppost as an individual operated and optimised entity,” he told Cities Today. “That means every luminaire must be managed individually.”

Following workshops, the city also concluded that it needed a real-time machine learning algorithm to make each light self-optimising, taking all the requests and data into account. The third requirement was to also consider residents’ preferences.

The pilot converted 154 streetlights to LEDs, linking sensors and artificial intelligence-based controllers to manage the lighting brightness, warmth and distribution based on factors such as traffic, ambient light and weather conditions.

Based on positive results, Bad Hersfeld plans to launch a tender to upgrade the remaining 2,000 streetlights.

Personalised lighting

An app was created to allow people to adjust streetlights to their needs. That could seem like a recipe for chaos, from mischievous or malicious actions to disagreements between neighbours, but there are settings in place so people can’t do things that are unsafe or unnecessarily waste energy. During the proof of concept, an individual’s adaptation was locked for ten minutes to show what is possible, before reverting to the system’s optimised setting.

Only a small number of people participated in this aspect of the pilot, but Fehling sees potential for the future when the feature is scaled across the city. He says people could have a “personal light profile” within an app which can also be used as a navigation system, where lights get brighter as they pass through a park at night or early in the morning, for example.

“We are collecting feedback, testing and we learned a lot so far,” he said.

“Maybe not within one or two years, but in five or ten years, it might be normal that you have your personal light profile. And if you walk through the city, the streetlights will respect it. Why not?

“If it’s really necessary I don’t know, but it could be a quality-of-life service for our citizens. We have the technology, we can provide the service: if you like it, use it and if not, OK.”

Results

[Ui!] and the city worked with the Technical University of Berlin to define the measurements and parameters for the streetlight settings, including calculating light distribution and brightness adaptations for different road conditions. The warmth of the light tone also adapts to protect insects.

“Once these are set up, most of the systems run automatically,” said Matthias Weis, CEO, [ui!]. “As you gain more data and experience, there can be more refinements and optimisation.”

Results from the pilot, which were corroborated by the university, showed an almost 80 percent reduction in energy consumption. Additional savings were achieved through dimming lights in wet road conditions.

“Many things which have been done in this pilot project have never been done before, at least here in Europe,” said Weis.

Data management

The trial also demonstrated a new approach to data management with the city’s data platform moved to Deutsche Bank’s cloud IT environment for banking-grade security. The city retains data sovereignty and Deutsche Bank has no access to the data itself.

Mayor Fehling believes more cities in Europe could follow its lead.

“When you think of the strict laws in Germany, the situation in Ukraine and other crises such as storms, we have to ensure that our critical infrastructure complies to a level of resilience, that it’s really ensured during a crisis.”

Microsoft provided technology including platform components, analytics and AI tools.

The pilot cost around €800,000 (US$802,000), with the city contributing €220,000, which is equal to its typical annual investment in streetlights.

For the next phase the mayor wants to upgrade all the remaining 2,000 lights at once through an as-a-service model, with the city eventually taking ownership of the infrastructure.

“From my perspective, this is really an extraordinary project, and the results are phenomenal,” said Fehling.

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