Los Angeles to upgrade street lights with GPS

The city of Los Angeles is emerging a leader in smart city lights. While the city currently has the ability to control about 50,000 of its 160,000 LED streetlights remotely, an upgrade will add GPS capability, CNN Money reports.

LA started deploying LED street lights in 2009. (Source: LA Bureau of Street Lighting)

The upgrade will start with 15,000 lights and eventually expand within the next two to three years to cover the remaining 95,000 that aren't currently part of the network. The project is estimated to cost $14 million.

"We'll be able to find out if a light goes out right away, as opposed to waiting for someone to call," Ed Ebrahimian, director of the city's Bureau of Street Lighting, told CNN Money. "It's really about customer service."

In a press release last month, Royal Philips said Los Angeles would become the first city in the world to control its street lighting through an advanced Philips management system that uses mobile and cloud-based technologies.

Los Angeles has long been at the forefront of smart city innovations, according to Philips, including the adoption of new web-based technologies that help city administrators better manage street lighting. With mobile chips installed in the street lights, the LA Bureau of Street Lighting can remotely control lighting fixtures and monitor energy use.

According to the press release outlining Philips' involvement, LA has more LED street lights than any other city in America, with about 7,500 centerline miles. And while LA isn't the first city to remotely control its lights, it's the first to retrofit its existing light fixtures with the technology, Silvie Casanova, a Philips spokeswoman, told CNN Money.

LA's transition to LED street light bulbs cut its energy use by more than 60 percent and it's seeing savings of more than $8 million a year.

Ebrahimian said the newest functionality could enable a range of smart solutions, such as linking the lights to the city's 911 system to turn them on in case of an emergency, or setting them to blink as a warning to residents if needed.

According to an eSecurity Planet report, LA's solution leverages banking-level encryption technology. Still, additional security considerations need to be taken into account, such as how firmware updates will be handled, Tripwire senior security analyst Ken Westin told eSecurity. "Although the system may be 'secure' now, as the lights and network become more distributed they become a target for hackers who will identify vulnerabilities in the system and the lights themselves," Westin said.

While a cellular network makes deployment relatively straightforward, Westin said it can also introduce additional vulnerabilities. "A cell jammer can block communication to the devices and if networks are otherwise unavailable can make these devices inoperable," he noted in the article.

Last year, researchers at the University of Michigan hacked into a live, networked traffic-signal system, showing how lax security can imperil any embedded systems. Several vulnerabilities were discovered in the system's wireless network and its traffic-light controller, which enabled the researchers to alter the state of traffic lights on command. The group noted that their findings had broad implications for other embedded systems, which are key to the Internet of Things (IoT) concept where billions of physical objects are equipped with IP addresses for Internet connectivity.

For more:
- see this CNNMoney story
- see this eSecurity Planet story

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