Goodbye streetlights, hello ‘smart nodes’

Written by

Will the streetlight of the future contain cameras, charging stations, speakers and sensors to detect gunshots?  Yes, if the new Smart Node, now being piloted at a site on Wilshire Boulevard, passes the test.

DnA was on its way to check out CAFAM’s timely show of art, craft and architecture, The U.S.-Mexico Border: Place, Imagination, and Possibility — and on the way encountered an intriguing sight: a group of electricians at work installing a slender, slate grey, pole.

The pole, on the south side of Wilshire at Curson, east of LACMA, was made up of clipped together sections. Inside several of these sections was electronic equipment. Some sections were transparent and contained LED lights; others had the eye of a camera embedded in them. At the top, flush with the sections, was a beacon.

Robert Matchett heads Ene-hub (photo by Frances Anderton.) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

The effect was of a sharp, sleek cylinder, perhaps a little reminiscent of the silencer of a gun.

This was LA’s first “Smart Node” and it may replace what used to be known as a “streetlight.”

The Smart Node comes to us via an Australian company called Ene-Hub, at the invitation of the City of LA’s Bureau of Street Lighting, and it is, says Ene-Hub’s dapper director Robert Matchett, “the first ground up pole that deals with all smart city functions in an integrated way.”

By this he means “smart city functionality like 4G and 5G network capacity, Wi-Fi, smart controlled LED lighting, electric vehicle car charging, public address speakers (in the case of an emergency or natural disasters), help points, USB charging ports and CCTV cameras are all accommodated inside the node without equipment hanging off the outside.”

Essentially the design is intended to do for “smart city functions” what the iPhone did for the personal computer — wrap all cabling, electronics and applications into one sleek package.

“Right now,” continues Matchett, “in cities all around the world those functions are coming into streets in a very uncontrolled way. Electronic equipment is being strapped on to street lights and onto buildings in a very ad hoc, very ill considered manner. This product allows the city to take control of the smart city agenda.”

Ene-Hub at the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia (photo courtesy Ene-Hub) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Ene-Hub, its business model and the product itself, sits, says Matchett, “between the city and the telecommunications companies and all of the smart city function providers. So it’s a way for the city to control how the smart city functions are coming into our streets… and then there’s spare capacity because the technology is evolving very quickly over time.”  

“The sky’s the limit, frankly,” says Ed Ebrahimian, the director of the Bureau of Street Lighting. Ebrahimian is a cheerful man who loves LA street lighting so much he has created a small museum on the floor of his office on South Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, showcasing the decorative cast iron and glass lamps of yesteryear. New applications might include CO2 sensors for temperature, video streaming or even gunshot detection sensors connected to police and fire departments.

Ed Ebrahimian directs the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Lighting. He is seen here in the museum of LA streetlights that is in his office (photo by Frances Anderton) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Eight years ago Ebrahimian helmed the transition of LA’s streetlighting from high-pressure sodium to LEDs; now he’s excited about the next evolution, turning streetlights into multipurpose nodes. He says we now live in a time in which streetlighting used to be made up of electrical components but now is driven by electronics.

Another upside of this partnership, says Ebrahimian, is “we are also strengthening the cell phone communication in the city of Los Angeles. . . This is a win-win for the city for everyone involved.”

And what happens to the quality of LA’s streetlighting? Not all Angelenos were happy when the warm sodium lighting known for their distinctive yellow hue was replaced by the cooler blue-tinted LEDs. Now to worry, says Ebrahimian. As the technology evolves, the LED lighting will get warmer.

A team of electrical engineers, as well as street lighting and smart cities experts celebrate the installation of the first Ene-Hub “Smart Node” in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy Ene-Hub) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)