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Orwellian? LED Lights Save Energy But Cameras Can View Our Every Move

Posted by Christina B. Farnsworth

Jul 2, 2014 1:06:00 PM

LED lights turn on as you walk down a hallway or through a parking lot or a garage, but as the lights illuminate, cameras inside the fixtures are looking at you and may have already read and recorded your license plate. Someone with access can know what time you arrived and maybe what you took out or put in the car.

Sensors in such light fixtures, can also sniff out a bomb.



The technology saves a significant amount of money because the fixtures last longer and use a lot less energy (some estimates are 90 percent less energy), but the sensors and cameras and timers the fixtures house bring us ever closer to the era of big brother. So, it is no wonder that CBS This Morning featured a segment describing the pros and cons.

CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker described these as “smart networks that can collect and feed data” that are also raising privacy concerns.

Terminal “B” at Newark airport’s LED lighting system has built-in sensors and cameras that connect over a wireless network. Other networks, such as those in parking lots may feed into a cloud network.

At Newark, the system monitors the “flow of foot traffic” and security. For example, the abandoned bag for which airports are always announcing that we should be on the look out, the LED light fixture monitors will detect that bag and alert security.

Sensity is the Sunnyvalle, Calif., company that developed the smart LED lights installed at the Newark Terminal B. Sensity president Hugh Martin says, “This week we saved $3,500 -- over $182,000 a year, in energy, just from this.”

Not only do the fixtures cost less to operate and last longer, but they are can also be brighter, which may be of some concern where they are used outdoors in areas where astronomers are hoping to preserve dark skies.

And the potential is huge. CBS reported that there are some four billion outdoor lights and asks us to “imagine all of those lights were connected in one global network.” The result might become the imagined reality depicted in the CBS program Person of Interest.

In Silicon Valley, a Shorenstein Company-owned building uses 40 lampposts illuminated with 83 LED light-system fixtures connected to seven cameras “in a seamless grid that tracks and records people’s moves” -- something that is at once comforting and scary.

CBS quoted Kevin Kirk, Shorenstein Company chief engineer, “We do use the license-plate recognition, and we can also detect people. Everything goes up into the cloud, so we can access everything from anywhere. The future is limitless for this technology.”

Indeed, the future will allow drivers tapped into the cloud to find that empty parking space in a crowded city. Light fixture monitors might measure rain or snow or ice.

They will also know where all of us are and what we are doing almost all of the time, but then are phones already distribute much of that information, though usually without the pictures.
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