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Street Lamps That Take Photos and Record Data Could Come to NYC

By Emily Frost | September 28, 2015 7:37am
 GE believes its intelligent lights can help cities solve problems, anything from air pollution to parking issues.
GE believes its intelligent lights can help cities solve problems, anything from air pollution to parking issues.
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NEW YORK CITY — General Electric is planning to bring "intelligent lamp posts" that take photos and collect data on driving patterns to New York City, a company representative said. 

The company is in discussions with the Department of Transportation to introduce the smart LED street lights that turn the typical urban lamp post into a data-collection tool aimed at improving city life and saving money.

They've already been piloted in two other U.S. cities.

"We are re-envisioning the streetlight," said Jason Whittet, a director at GE's Intelligent Cities program who spoke to Community Board 7 members Thursday. 

The new street lamp, currently installed in San Diego, California, and Jacksonville, Florida, has a multidirectional camera installed, as well as motion sensors that can pick up the speed and direction of pedestrians, cyclists and cars and transmits that data back to the city.

The lights can have other sensors attached as well, including ones that measure air quality or noise levels, Whittet said.

He said the lights can save money for cities because, aside from using LED bulbs that consume less power, they can be set on a remote control dimmer. The energy savings in cities that use them is about 75 percent, Whittet said.

"If you’re having a festival or an emergency you can make them really bright, or dim them down," said Whittet.

GE is exploring other possibilities for the lights, like having them interact with smart dashboards in vehicles so that it warns your car about a pedestrian that's in the street or other hazards, he said. 

Though a New York City pilot is not a done-deal yet, Whittet was optimistic that it was around the corner.

"I think we’re going to do a pilot with the city very soon," he told board members, who were enthusiastic about the lamps. 

There are 250,000 existing lamp posts in the city, with 50,000 of those in Manhattan, Whittet said. In San Diego's pilot project, 3,000 lamp posts were converted to smart lamp posts. 

Board member Rich Robbins asked Whittet about the location of the potential pilot because of past traffic issues.

"Would you consider a pilot on the Upper West Side? Ideally in a corridor that’s had more [traffic] injuries," he said.

But Whittet — who lives in the neighborhood — said the locations were in the DOT's hands and wouldn't specify which neighborhoods were under consideration. He confirmed the pilot would be in Manhattan. 

The lights hook up to Predix, GE's cloud platform that turns on the sensors and stores the data and aims to be "improving lives while city officials tap into endless data," according to a promotional video put out by the company. 

They're meant to be predictive and to analyze trends, like parking space utilization and crashes.

"[Currently,] there’s crash data on what happens, but there’s no data on what doesn’t happen or on what almost happens," and the smart lights will fix that, Whittet said. 

Some board members voiced concern about privacy and who gets to use the data, but Whittet didn't want to go into those issues, simply saying that the city would own the data, including photo stills. 

The larger goal is to have the lights throughout the city in the next RFP bidding round for city lights, he said. 

A DOT spokesman said the department was aware of GE's interest in bringing the initiative to New York City, but would not comment further. 

Watch GE's video explaining its new intelligent lights: