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New technology provides all-in-one lighting, sound and public safety applications

(Originally published in Downtown Idea Exchange, November 16, 2011)
To view or download a PDF of this article, click here.

The City of Farmington Hills, MI (est. pop. 79,740), has become the inaugural site for the Intellistreets system, a wireless network of urban light poles that offers energy conservation, safety and security, entertainment, concealed audio control, direction and rerouting, aesthetic applications, and more. For starters, the system features dimmable, programmable and "sman" LED lighting, drawing less energy than traditional lighting and is controllable from an Internet-based command module.

"We did this for a couple of reasons," says Steve Brock, city manager. "The company is located in our community. This is an intelligent lighting and design and intellectual property company. We've known them for some time, and they had a notion that we could serve as a beta test location for this product. We thought this would be a good public/private partnership." The city used energy efficiency and progressive technology grant dollars to fund the project.

Invented and patented by Ron Harwood, president of Illuminating Concepts, Intellistreets is billed as "the World's first and only outdoor media system of its kind, a wireless light-pole-based intelligent control system that addresses the needs of the modern cityscape, including lighting control, wireless communication, concealed audio, and alert indication."

A complete system also includes wayfinding via digital signage, environmental sensors and reporting, video monitoring, foot sensors, digital banners and advertising, homeland security capabilities including video and audio alerts, data acquisition and more. However, the test installation in Farmington Hills is intended to showcase the energy conservation, safety, entertainment, and concealed audio features of the product.

While much of Farmington Hills is suburban, Brock says he can see uses for the technology in certain areas of the community, and definitely for larger cities where moving high numbers of people quickly during an emergency is more complex.

"Anything that you Want to communicate quickly to people outside Walking around, it's the ideal tool for that," Brock says.

The Intellistreets system has three tiers of services that can be purchased, with capabilities ranging from those exhibited in Fannington Hills to digital banners, street signs, full-motion video and the ability to track people in the street for foot and vehicular counts, and as an emergency communications system via a code entered into an EMS cell phone.

"If a downtown development authority wants to know how many people are walking in front of a vacant building that they want to get somebody to rent, it can track that, too," says Harwood.

The system has amber strobe lights that can guide people along detour or evacuation routes during emergencies, and a feature that Harwood jokingly refers to as the "blue light special" that allows an individual in need to hit a call button and access a two-way connection to a 9-1-1 dispatcher, the person's location is mapped for the dispatcher and responding law enforcement, and activates a camera that will record any potential criminal activity in the vicinity of the pole.

Cost/benefit ratios depend on the applications desired and how those are utilized. "If the only service someone wanted was environmentally friendly, low-cost LED lighting, the payback is four to five years," Harwood says. "But as soon as somebody wants to add sound, background music or announcements, the payback period is less than half of what it would be to install a wired system. If somebody is going to wire in between speakers on poles it costs twice as much for initial installation as our product, and four times as much if they are trenching up existing streets and sidewalks."

Harwood notes that several grant sources are available to fund this type of lighting system upgrade, including Community Development Block Grants, technology grants from the National Science Foundation, and funds from local energy commissions. In stadiums, convention centers, and other locations with extra security issues, funding may be available from the Department of Homeland Security.

Contact: Steve Brock, City of Farmington Hills, (248) 871-2500,; Ron Hawwood, Illuminating Concepts, (248) 478-2525,

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