By Jermaine Dallas Imagine this scenario: A gunshot echoes down a city street at night. Passerby turn to look, but can’t make out the scene in the darkness. The first to react effectively is the nearest street lamp. It hears the gun and automatically goes to full brightness to illuminate the scene, film the attacker and call the emergency services – all in an instant. Or how about medical emergencies? An intelligent lighting system could be a central part of the healthcare infrastructure, serving as a network through which hospital managers receive updates in real time about a patient’s location and status. It could significantly improve the quality of medical care and speed up response time. These examples are much more real than you might imagine. Networked intelligent LED lighting systems (see above) equipped with sensors that can see, feel and hear could soon illuminate roads and hallways, and help improve security, optimize traffic, monitor the environment, and a whole lot more. There are nearly 90 million streetlights in the U.S. and Europe. For the proponents of smart cities, that’s a lot of potential for lighting upgrades that could make lives easier and more enjoyable. Still, against a background of austerity, many municipalities find it hard to justify an investment in something that seems a bit futuristic. But that investment could actually be part of the solution. “Smart is the antibiotic to austerity,” says Agostino Renna, president and CEO of GE Lighting Europe, Middle East & Africa. How? Renna says it’s possible to invest in smart technologies in ways that make cities more profitable. “Many markets want to scale back,” Renna says. “You either have local governments that will cling to the status quo and butcher their organizations to deliver cost savings, or you have creative cities that embrace innovation.” The latter would be Renna’s option. “LED technology becomes the enabling platform for cities to go smart,” Renna says. “It comes with a return on investment.” (See video below) GE Lighting recently carried out research with the Carbon Trust, the UK-based organization that helps companies to become more energy efficient, and discussed the issues with British public sector decision-makers. One thing the research made clear was that the greatest obstacles to rolling out smart technology had nothing to do with the technology itself. It is already out there in various forms. The key goal now is to transform intelligent LED lighting into a platform on which developers can build their own applications. Once the platforms are rolled out across cities, the only constraint would be their creativity. New “intelligent” LED streetlights combined with sensors and cloud analytics could soon start delivering real street smarts and savings. Image credit: GE Lighting Renna says that GE Lighting is pushing for open innovation and open protocols, and his business has already started working with a number of app developers. He’s not alone turned on by the technology. The Carbon Trust research found that of the public sectors executives polled, 57 percent have already started to roll out indoor and outdoor LED lighting, and 77 percent have implemented building efficiency measures to make their departments smarter and waste less energy. For Renna, the future seems bright. “This is just the start,” he says.