These LED smart lights are tracking your moves

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While more peo­ple and places are switch­ing to ener­gy-sav­ing LED light bulbs, a Cal­i­for­nia com­pa­ny has found a way to turn them into smart net­works that can col­lect and feed data. How­ev­er, the new tech­no­log­i­cal oppor­tu­ni­ties are also rais­ing pri­va­cy concerns.

For exam­ple, should you find your­self in ter­mi­nal “B” at Newark air­port, look up. Those aren’t just new lights. They’re smart lights — a sophis­ti­cat­ed array of LED fix­tures with built-in sen­sors and cam­eras con­nect­ed over a wire­less net­work. They mon­i­tor secu­ri­ty and the flow of foot traffic.

Newark’s pri­mar­i­ly inter­est­ed in ener­gy sav­ing,” said Hugh Mar­tin, pres­i­dent of Sen­si­ty, the Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­ny that devel­oped the smart lights at Newark and also a park­ing garage in San Jose.

This week we saved $3,500 — over $182,000 a year, in ener­gy saved just from this,” Mar­tin said.

Sav­ing mon­ey isn’t the only rea­son the bulbs are in the spotlight.

There’s a motion sen­sor in each indi­vid­ual light,” he said.

Across the globe, cities are phas­ing out old, ener­gy-wast­ing incan­des­cent and sodi­um bulbs and replac­ing them with LEDs, which can act as a pow­er hub that can be tai­lored for high-tech add-ons. That’s the “smart” part.

They’re also 90 per­cent more effi­cient, longer last­ing and burn­ing much brighter.

There are about 4 bil­lion out­side lights in the world today. Imag­ine all of those lights con­nect­ed in one glob­al network.

A build­ing in Sil­i­con Val­ley is one of the few places in the coun­try where a smart light net­work has been installed. They’re used pri­mar­i­ly for secu­ri­ty. The 40 lamp­posts in the park­ing lot holds 83 LED lights, and they’re con­nect­ed to sev­en cam­eras in a seam­less grid that tracks and records peo­ple’s moves.

We do use the license plate recog­ni­tion, and we also can detect peo­ple,” said Kevin Kirk, chief engi­neer for the Shoren­stein Com­pa­ny, which owns the building.

The com­pa­ny plans to install smart lights at its prop­er­ties across the country.

Every­thing goes up into the cloud, so we can access every­thing from any­where. The future is lim­it­less for this tech­nol­o­gy,” Kirk said.

The smart light net­work has the abil­i­ty to spot an unat­tend­ed bag at an air­port and alert secu­ri­ty, show dri­vers to emp­ty park­ing spaces and alert shop­pers of sales as they walk past retail­ers. Exist­ing LED lights can be retro-fit­ted with sen­sors to mon­i­tor pol­lu­tion, mea­sure snow­fall and sniff out a dirty bomb before it can spew radiation.

Mar­tin said there is no end to the kind of infor­ma­tion you could gather.

And there­in lies a prob­lem. In the future, the smart net­work could track every­place we go, every­thing we buy, every­thing we do, all the time.

Would­n’t at least the par­ents of kids at a school feel bet­ter if they knew there was an ana­lyt­ic that looked for objects that could be guns on peo­ple that are com­ing into the school? Would­n’t that be a good thing,” Mar­tin said.

We’re all both ben­e­fit­ing and at risk from this,” said Dr. Lin­ton Wells, who is with the Nation­al Defense Uni­ver­si­ty in Washington.

He said tech­nol­o­gy is evolv­ing faster than our poli­cies to con­trol it.

I think the onus has to be on the cit­i­zen. It’s your infor­ma­tion that’s at risk out there,” Wells said.

While some believe tech­nol­o­gy may be get­ting ahead of us, oth­ers see it as necessary.

If we don’t have the tech­nol­o­gy, we won’t con­front the issues and we won’t fig­ure out the right way,” Mar­tin said.

With a smart light net­work, the future can be bright — if we’re smart about how we use it.