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    Smart lighting and highway mobility: 5 wins

    The tech revolution is coming for our roads


    Like earlier revolutions in how people get around, smart mobility promises to change how work gets done, how economies and geographies are structured, and much else.
     

    If you’re keeping up with our era's innovations, you likely already knew that much. What you might not be aware of is how smart lighting—data-driven connected lighting systems integrated into the Internet of Things—can be crucial in moving those innovations forward and ensuring that the mobility revolution fulfills its promise.
     

    Here are five roles that lighting can play in shaping roadways.

    Lighting makes roads safer


    The simple idea behind the office of the future is this: that happy, comfortable employees do more productive work, making the maximization of happiness and comfort a first-order goal of office “placemaking.”

     

    But because happiness and comfort are hard to define, companies will increasingly rely on standards and credentials to validate the extent to which th For a century now, lighting has been making our roads much safer than they would have been without it: research indicates that quality street lighting can reduce road accidents that result in personal injury by up to 30%.

    Still, with 1.35 million people perishing on the world's roads each year, there remains much safety-related work to be done. Smart lighting can help do it.
     

    One way it can do it is via its ability to host sensors that can keep track of roadway conditions and other things that can impact safety. In the future, thousands of sensors integrated into thousands of connected roadway luminaires will be able to monitor weather and surface conditions, opening up new frontiers when it comes to giving drivers the information they need.
     

    Drivers have long known to slow down on potentially icy roads—but connected sensor tech could indicate to them that this bridge or that stretch of sunless asphalt is treacherous, not as a matter of common sense, but as a matter of exact real-time data. Drivers could then adjust their driving appropriately.
     

    Sensors can keep track of things other than the weather, too. Potholes, stalled vehicles, downed trees: connected lighting tech has the potential to make all such things far less treacherous, with sensors detecting such conditions and feeding alerts back to central nodes for dissemination.
     

    Incident detection technology will also be key when it comes to safety. Acoustic sensors that pick up the sounds of car accidents can, for example, serve as the on-site “ears" of communications systems that dispatch first responder teams to crash sites with unprecedented speed.
     

    Smart lighting can also adapt to ambient light conditions. On moonless overcast nights, such lighting will boost its illumination levels to make up for the extra darkness. Smart lighting can adapt to ambient daylight levels to ease driver transitions into, and out of, tunnels, allowing drivers' eyes to efficiently adjust as they emerge into, or drive out of, brighter light.

    And so on. We're only at the beginning of the work that lighting can do in making roadway mobility safe.

    Lighting can keep traffic moving


    Lighting also has an important role to play in enabling the smooth flow of traffic—and traffic that moves can have benefits besides simply reducing road-rage levels (as positive as that is).
     

    Moving traffic is an underappreciated but real prerequisite for economic growth and competitiveness, for example. Little can degrade efficiency more than traffic congestion, which freezes employees in their cars and keeps goods and materials from getting to where they need to go.
     

    More specifically, open roadways can cut companies' capex and opex costs, freeing money up to invest in growth and in the future. Clear roads also help cut operational costs, like the cost of all that gasoline lost to idling or stop-and-start driving. Those saved seconds per vehicle mile add up.
     

    How exactly does lighting help here? Sensor-based technology integrated into connected lighting systems can facilitate routing systems that distribute traffic efficiently and in real time, cutting down on bottlenecks. By keeping track of which vehicles are where, and which are permitted to be where, it can make express lanes possible. It can enable much faster accident clearance: sensors can send information that triggers first responders back to control centers, and in real time.
     

    Finally, it can keep roadways well-maintained. The sensor-based system will pick up the presence of nascent potholes and send maintenance crews to fix them before they become traffic-confounding problems.
     

    In general, average speeds will rise, journey times will become that much more predictable, and the free circulation on which a healthy economy relies will be bolstered.

    Lighting can create efficiencies and reduce environmental impact


    Next there are the green benefits that lighting can provide.
     

    Smart lighting is by definition environmentally friendly lighting, a fact that can do much to help us build roadways that make less of an impact. Its adaptivity, for example, lets it shut down when it's not specifically needed, a huge boon in minimizing light pollution of the sort that can disturb flora and fauna. Why should a mountain road that sees almost no traffic be lit from sunrise to sundown? Smart lighting will illuminate it only when a rare car happens along—and will illuminate only those parts of it that the car needs illuminated. This isn't only environmentally responsible, either. It also saves on energy costs.
     

    But of course smart lighting is environmentally friendly even in those urban situations that we discussed above, as less traffic congestion and less stop-and-start driving means less air pollution.
     

    When we talk about environmental impact, we tend to mean the impact we humans make on the environment. But there is also the impact that nature can work on our roads. Extreme cold can create frost heaves, earthquakes can crack pavements, and floods can do what floods do. Connected sensor tech can keep track of such phenomena, again in real time, so that managers can stay on top of things.

    Lighting can boost growth and competitiveness


    We've discussed how better circulation can lead to better economic results. Another way to look at this is as a question of infrastructure. Infrastructure has become a political issue in the U.S.—and that country is currency gearing up for huge investments in its infrastructure—precisely because good physical infrastructure is inseparable from economic well-being.
     

    As mentioned above, reducing travel delays can directly boost economic growth by making commuting employees and trucking more efficient. Smart lighting can also make the highway infrastructure itself more efficient in the most basic structural sense. The mountains of data that connected lighting-based sensor networks feed back to the cloud for analysis can give managers insights into how better to build, retrofit, and use highways, bridges, interchanges, and so on. And better designed, better built, and more effectively used infrastructure not only better serves users and society—it can also be easier to get built. Taxpayers and the politicians who answer to them will be far more willing to pay for success.

    Lighting can make drivers happier


    Last but not least, effective roadway lighting makes drivers happier by increasing safety and reducing the rate of accidents and injuries. But great lighting also boost driver satisfaction in less  tangible ways.
     

    Much is made anecdotally of the stresses of, say, car commuting, but it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, drivers get happier as roads get safer, congestion melts away, and average travel times fall. Highways England, the agency that manages England's roads, has seen its customer satisfaction scores rise in response to an investment program that launched in 2015. The score was 88.41% for 2019-2020 and the agency hopes to hit its 90% goal in the future.
     

    By making driving better in a range of ways, then, smart lighting is doing nothing less than contributing to that ultimate goal of any healthy society: helping its members live happy lives.

    About the author

    Mehmet Aras, Global Segment Leader for Transportation and Smart Mobility, Signify
    Mehmet Aras is Global Segment Leader for Transportation and Smart Mobility at Signify

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