The next time you're passing through Newark airport, look up and smile. The airport's new super-efficient LED light fixtures are also embedded with cameras and sensors — and they're part of a growing market for surveillance technology that is built into other, everyday systems.
There's been plenty of speculation about what piece of infrastructure will host the "smart" functionality of the future, from old payphones to actual roads. But the simplest and cheapest solution — put it in the lights! — is already being implemented.
The New York Times reports that, in Newark, these multi-tasking LED fixtures are being installed by a company called Sensity Systems. Each fixture is networked to a wireless surveillance system that feeds real-time video input and sensor data to a central hub monitored by security. The idea? Make fliers safer and operating costs cheaper, by killing two birds with one system.
Sensity, which partners with lighting manufacturers, primarily sells its system as a logistics tool. For example, their technology could help parking lot attendants judge where the free spots are located.
"Who knew that underground lighting could locate parking spots and generate revenue at the same time?" reads the pitch on Sensity's website. "We transform your existing light infrastructure into a highly efficient network of smart LEDs to drive innovation and help build a smarter world."
Cool as that sounds, critics of the systems argue that they're another example of the creeping trickle of surveillance technologies into public places.
That trickle is fast becoming a flood. As the Times points out, plenty of other cities are pursuing the same tech — Las Vegas is considering street lights that emit music or sounds to notify the public of "security alerts," while Copenhagen is installing a similar system to monitor pollution and traffic.
One company already installing these systems across the US calls them intellistreets, "a flexible wireless solution for integrating energy efficient lighting, audio, digital signage and more into your city, campus or sporting venue."
In a certain light (har har), it's a great idea — cheaper, smarter, more adaptable infrastructure! But, in another, it turns a ubiquitous service — one that everyone depends on — into a fragile, hackable piece of surveillance tech. [New York Times]