Report Investigates How Sensor-Equipped "Smart Lampposts" Could Aid in the Fight Against COVID-19

Crowd control "nudge" lighting, computer vision systems, and even temperature sensors are the subject of this new report.

A report commissioned by a group of global smart city planners has suggested a novel approach to helping protect citizens against COVID-19: The installation of "smart lampposts" that can track crowd density and even analyze people's temperatures.

"The pandemic has been highly revealing regarding smart city infrastructure, and the need to improve our way of working to drive further efficiencies," claims Richard Perry, Lucy Zodion's Smart Cities Head of Business Development, of the report. "We have seen forward-thinking cities such as London, Barcelona, and Copenhagen leading the way, and individually they are only accessing a small proportion of what the 'humble lamppost' can offer. Imagine the potential for other cities. With this new alliance, we are learning all the time and discovering new initiatives in which the lamppost can play a role in our recovery."

"We don't know when we will be finally COVID-free, but as we slowly ease restrictions, new measures will be needed to keep everyone and the economy safe. By using their existing infrastructure, local authorities can smarten their lighting assets making their public spaces safer, healthier and bag the bankable financial savings that result from smart lighting upgrades — which typically exceed 50 percent."

The report investigated a Barcelona City Council initiative which uses cameras attached to lampposts in the popular Las Ramblas region to monitor crowding on public beaches. "We used scanning devices to get the images and a bit of artificial intelligence to analyze them to find out what portion of the beach was free in terms of lack of people," explains Marc Perez-Batlle of his team's work. "We analyzed the proportion of sand rather than identifying people’s faces. This enabled us to look at the capacity that was free. Due to privacy concerns we anonymised the images."

Another "smart lamppost" initiative highlighted in the report is from Westminster City Council in London, which is investigating how lighting can be used to encourage people to use less-crowded exits on the London Underground. "It’s simply about putting lights on the ground to either make people stand there or make people avoid it," a spokesperson explains. "This helps with crowd control when you are coming out of the train and out of tube stops to help curtail people mingling around exits."

The city of Los Angeles, meanwhile, is already using smart lampposts as charging points for electric vehicles and has pilot runs planned for adding air quality sensors, fire spotters, gunshot locators, and earthquake sensors — and has an idea for expanding the functionality to cover COVID-19 protection. "Are people congregating where they shouldn’t be and how many of these people are exhibiting symptoms? A temperature sensor that is mounted on a lamppost is something that could be easily done," explains Bureau of Street Lighting senior engineering manager James Quigley. "If your temperature is above 100 you can flag it up."

"The paper highlights the progressive cities that are leading the way in using smart technologies to tackle COVID," UrbanDNA founding partner Graham Colclough concludes. "It highlights a second group that have implemented the technology. However, they have not yet fully exploited its potential to address COVID recovery. The real opportunity lies with the third larger group that can reap huge energy and cost savings from installing LED smart lights, and benefit at the same time by making those lights ‘smart’ to address COVID-related needs. Our report shows how they can do so to best effect."

The report is available for free download from the European Commission Smart Cities Marketplace.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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