Continental makes street lights smart
For the first time, the international automotive supplier Continental is making its automotive expertise available to the infrastructure beyond the vehicle. At the ITS World Congress in Bordeaux last week, Continental demonstrated its smart street light of the future.
Out on the streets the next revolution is about to begin – at least when it comes to street lighting. After oil lamps, gas lamps, and electric street lights, the triumphal march of LEDs (light-emitting diodes) in street light is now underway. In a few years, the majority of street lights will be fitted with LEDs. The benefits of LEDs are so significant that in some cases operators are replacing existing lamps even before they have reached the end of their usual service life. In addition to drastic energy savings of around one third, LED light also requires significantly less maintenance. LEDs are long lasting and “do not fail all at the same time,” making the planning of maintenance work considerably easier and more efficient.
Street lights become intelligent
Yet this is only the beginning. Street lights also have the potential to massively improve road safety and convenience thanks to the use of electronics and sensors that turn street lights intelligent — into a sort of “Street Light 4.0.” As Alfred Waldhaeusl, coordinating this project at Continental, explains: “The use of LEDs means that the electronics required for control, diagnostics, and communication are already present in the street lights.” The increasing use of LEDs is unstoppable. “Today, LED street lights are pretty much the only type available. Based on normal service life, within 15 to 20 years almost all street lights will be LED”, Waldhaeusel adds.
The introduction of electronics opens up entirely new possibilities. The diagnostic function, which reports the failure of a light to the operators, provides the information channel required to be able to forward sensor data as well. Waldhaeusl gives the following example: “Sensors enable us to identify whether parking spaces in the vicinity of the light are occupied. We can then provide this information either directly or via a cloud to drivers who are looking for a parking space nearby. This way we improve parking management, revenues, and the CO2 footprint of municipalities.”
Moving objects can also be detected. Brightness could therefore be adjusted to match requirements, depending on whether a pedestrian, cyclist, or car is approaching, or the light could even be switched off entirely. “We could also identify accidents and not just ensure rapid assistance but also warn following vehicles,” says Waldhaeusl as he expands upon the theme, “there are no limits to our imagination.” Intelligent street light control could also play a key role in automated driving. Additional key elements include recording environmental factors such as brightness, temperature, rain, snow, and the formation of ice. In the future and as an additional benefit, LED street lights could also be equipped with charging stations for electric vehicles.
Continental anticipates a wide range of different versions. Basic LED street lights will provide light only, although they will still require an electronic LED driver to do so. At the next level, LED street lights will include diagnostic functions and therefore automatically provide a communication channel. As Waldhaeusl explains: “At stage three, all sorts of smart features will be added, probably also with a number of different levels.” For example, Continental engineers are currently considering the addition of service features that Continental could make available to vehicles with suitable receiver units.
Technological and manufacturing expertise
“As a system component manufacturer, Continental aims to offer light manufacturers, municipalities, and utility companies our LED and ITS expertise gained from vehicle technology and also our manufacturing capacity for the manufacture of large quantities of high-quality, low-cost electronic components,” states Waldhaeusl, summarizing the reasons why Continental has ventured into a field beyond the automotive arena. In the light of a dramatic increase in demand for LED lights, their rapid and economic production will be of major importance. In the field of street lighting, France has always been something of a pioneer and today it is once again at the forefront of innovation. The city of Toulouse, for example, is strongly committed to the ongoing development of its street light. Some of these intelligent LED street lights are already illuminating the streets of Toulouse. For approximately the last two years, Toulouse has also been home to the development of intelligent Continental street lights. Toulouse is now enabling Continental to carry out the first field tests in an actual city environment.