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Farmington Hills Firm Creates A Much Smarter Street Light

(Originally published in Great Lakes IT Report, May 17, 2010)

By Matt Roush

A nondescript building on 10 Mile Road in Farmington Hills is producing world-class innovation in lighting and urban design.

Illuminating Concepts was founded in 1981 by electrical contractor Ron Harwood and has grown into an internationally renowned provider of lighting for venues ranging from Disney World to England's Wembley Stadium to Dearborn's Greenfield Village to Detroit's Campus Martius, Fox Theatre, Book Cadillac and Comerica Park to half of the Las Vegas Strip.

Its latest innovation is Intellistreets, technology that combines the humble street light with public safety, homeland security, information and audio.

Intellistreets street lights come in a variety of styles from retro to modern. All feature energy-efficient LED lighting on top. But that's barely the beginning.

The lights offer individual computer brains, wireless Internet access, solar powered battery backup, so they can be programmed to dim and light up and work in power outages.

They can also be rigged with sensors that sense footfalls - brightening up when people are nearby and dimming when lighting isn't needed. This also provides municipal officials with pedestrian counts, useful marketing information.

The lamps also come with high-quality, low-power-use audio speakers that can set the mood with music or offer important safety announcements (like tornado warnings, for instance). They also feature LED or LCD screens replacing the traditional light pole banner that can provide advertising, public service information or emergency information. They can even be equipped with sniffers to detect everything from explosives to radiation gas leaks.

Harwood and Jeff Stribbell, marketing director of Illuminating Concepts' Outdoor Media Group, said Intellistreets grow out of Illuminating Concepts' work at Greenfield Village, which wanted the ability to plan period music as visitors walk through the village without obtrusive speakers hung everywhere.

The signs are controlled wirelessly through a secure connection.

Future innovations in the Intellistreets light poles are to include electric vehicle charging stations and wireless smartphone downloads of points of interest to passersby.

Stribbell and Harwood said the improved lighting can pay for itself quickly in energy efficiency. A 2002 study showed 22 percent of all electric consumption in the United States was for lighting - 8 percent for fixed outdoor lighting alone.

Harwood said an LED street light uses 40 percent less power than a traditional one to begin with - and Intellistreets' dimming features can save another 20 percent.

Intellistreets projects are now under way with Wayne State University, the city of Farmington Hills and a casino in Atlantic City, N.J., with more than a dozen other projects in the works.

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(And go check out the Work section of Absolutely amazing stuff.)

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