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5 Emerging Technologies Soon to Hit the Government Market

(Published in its entirety in Government Technology Magazine, September 2011.)
The following is an excerpt. To view the entire article, please click here.

By Chad Vander Veen

When future historians look back on 2011, they'll certainly conclude that we were a society obsessed with video games, minicomputers masquerading as phones and an endless supply of online distraction. But in a few years, many technologies developed in service of these functions may be repurposed in extraordinarily sensible ways.

Motion control, for example, is driving a revolution in video gaming, but may soon help doctors diagnose patients via video conference. Augmented reality, used on smartphones to track down bars, might soon make police officers smarter and safer. In two decades, unmanned aerial vehicles plying the skies might be mundane. The following five emerging technologies are poised to go from amazing to ordinary - and the change will most certainly benefit us.

Intelligent Streetlights

Smart infrastructure, intelligent transportation systems, even the so-called "Internet of things" - all add up to an environment that's more than meets the eye. But there's at least one common fixture few of us give a second thought to, yet it's uniquely positioned to deliver an array of high-tech services - the humble streetlight.

A company called Illuminating Concepts transforms typical streetlights into highly intelligent network nodes that do more than fend off darkness. The Farmington Hills, Mich., company launched a product called Intellistreets that adds lighting control, wireless communication, audio, video and digital signage to any standard streetlight.

Ron Harwood, president and founder of Illuminating Concepts, said Intellistreets can help cities save energy and enhance citizen safety, while even turning a small profit. For instance, restaurants could pay to run advertising messages on downtown intersections equipped with digital signage. Cities also could use visual or audio messages for emergency communications or to guide citizens to emergency evacuation routes.

It's unbelievable how much more the cities can communicate with pedestrians," Harwood said. The wireless mesh network capability of Intellistreets also means the streetlights could display - or tell - people bus or train schedules, information on Amber Alerts, that an emergency vehicle is approaching, or help reroute drivers during road closures.

Outfitting a streetlight with Intellistreets costs about $500, according to Harwood. Each fixture operates individually and includes a microprocessor, a dual-band radio system, audio amplifier, digital sound processor, video output and HD video card.

He said the technology is an affordable option to implement smarter streetlights. "Los Angeles and Seattle are spending a lot of money in retrofitting streetlights, and departments of transportation in all 50 states are experimenting with LED fixtures," Harwood said. "There is a lot of awareness in the cities around retrofitting, but for many, there's just too little money available for it to happen."

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