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Smart lighting gets cities going smart

While a discussion around implementing Smart City initiatives can often get city planners and managers excited about the opportunities that technology can enable, the budget available is often the biggest stumbling block to getting started, says DAVID WEBBER – Global Public Safety Expert, Huawei Enterprise Business Group.

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However, the desire to move a nation (or region or city) higher up the value chain cannot be carried out as a single project. Authorities have to apply a long-term vision, and then put in place the programmes and initiatives that are aimed at achieving their objectives. Beyond just looking at cost, cities need to look at what value these investments will bring. 

This makes the transition toward becoming a Smart City more of a journey with a travel guide, rather than a definite set of projects with fixed budgets and timeframes. 

There are low hanging fruit that cities can take advantage of. To see the possibilities, it is important to know where the typical cities of today are burning money in their daily operations; and tackling those challenges can improve operational efficiencies and provide dramatic cost savings. 

The easiest place where authorities can start is with street lighting, which can fall into one of two categories: either there is none, but the city would love to install it, or they have existing lighting, but it doesn’t cover all areas and the infrastructure is expensive to operate and maintain. 

Significant energy cost savings

The first change is fairly straightforward, the electricity utility can simply replace old fluorescent bulbs for new LED ones, which use less power and last longer with less maintenance required. 

However, the ability for streetlights to be part of an intelligent network, just like any other piece of network equipment is capable of – via the copper wire-based electricity network coupled with modern wide area narrow band NB-IoT control communications, is where the real advantages lie for city authorities or utility companies. 

Combining connectivity and sensors enable smart lights, which can measure ambient lighting and use motion sensors to turn lights on and off as needed, such as when people or vehicles pass by a particular area. This can help municipalities save up to 80% on lighting energy costs as compared to using traditional street lights, and allow them to free up resources for other improvements. 

Having connected street lights and a city-wide communications network means that city authorities also no longer have to worry about routine inspections to see which lights need replacing. As they are connected to a central control system, smart street lights can report when and why they fail, helping cities realise up to a 90% savings in maintenance and service costs.

Enabling new services, improving public safety

Connected street lights can do more than just save money for a municipality; it gives them the opportunity to use the same network to enable additional services, including WiFi connectivity for local businesses and residents.

Similarly, the infrastructure can be used for a wide variety of smart city services, such as using motion sensors to identify open parking spaces, using live location information at bus stops to improve the residents’ commute. When combined with other smart meters, city authorities can even shift to getting automatic usage reporting for electricity, gas and water being delivered along a particular street.

Utilities can even enter new markets, such as the provision of charging services for the growing number of electric vehicles. This can be as simple as installing a built in power socket on the street light pole at the same time as traditional lights are being replaced with LEDs and motion sensors are being installed. 

There are many intangible benefits beyond the cost savings or new revenue that a municipality might stand to benefit from. Improved communication capabilities help enhance emergency response and utility support, while research shows that good street lighting helps reduce crime by up to 20%. 

Access to smart infrastructure and city-wide WiFi not only improves the quality of life for residents, but also impacts positively on business prospects and property values

Doing nothing not an option

How much cities need to invest in getting a smart lighting project started depends on the types of existing street lights and the cost of the replacements. It is not a simple formula, and engineers will be required to produce a formal plan. 

Once the core communications network is installed and the smart street light poles deployed, additional smart infrastructure or services can be added in a phased approach. Upgrades can also be carried out suburb by suburb rather than the entire city at once.

Experience with such initiatives around the world have shown they typical return on investment to be between three and five years, with the shortest being two years, and the longest being seven years. 

However, cities cannot afford to not invest for the future. They can clearly see how much they are spending today on street lighting and project their future requirements accordingly. Certainly, if they do nothing, the existing street lighting will continue to burn money that they could have saved on.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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