Can smart streetlights help to improve public health?

It is quite intuitive to figure out how streetlights can support law enforcement and public safety. Connected and remotely controlled lamps can be for instance scheduled to have a certain level of brightness even at nighttime in crime-intense Cities or districts, or can be instantly dimmed to the highest possible luminosity if an emergency or a public security issue happens in a specific area.

If equipped with IP cameras or optical sensors, smart streetlights can also support traffic monitoring and urban mobility control. But how is it possible to leverage Smart Lighting networks for public health surveillance?

From a general perspective, Internet of things (IoT), sensor technologies, and AI are already being used to better monitor and correlate environmental data, and feed greener policy-making to prevent air pollution and mitigate related illnesses.

Thinking of Covid-19, smart technologies are contributing to the pandemic response and the overall enhancement of urban resilience. A specific experiment around streetlights is being made in Spain: in Barcelona, the city council developed a camera-based solution to be integrated into existing light poles in the popular Las Ramblas area and some beaches to action crowd control measures and help tackle Covid-19.

Scanning devices are attached to streetlights and collect real-time images, while Artificial Intelligence allows to analyse the proportion of footpath or sand to monitor possible crowds and the respect of social distancing measures. City officials decided not to identify people’s faces and anonymise images to further protect the privacy of people in public spaces.

Similar systems are being implemented in other cities, where smart streetlights are equipped with IP cameras and sensors to monitor people aggregation and direct crowds away from train and underground stations, gardens and parks, popular squares, or public outdoor facilities.

Apart from the pandemic-related uses, these projects prove Smart Lighting infrastructures are a valuable asset for cities, and their value goes far beyond energy saving, environmental benefits, and the improvement of urban life. They can be beneficial even for public health.

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