Everything is Illuminated: Intellistreets Evolves the Humble Light Bulb

If you want proof that new and old technologies can coexist in harmony, look no further than the historic streetscapes of Greenfield Village. There you’ll find paths illuminated by LED (light-emitting diode) lamps atop replicas of vintage light posts made from recycled Ford engine blocks. This convergence of the past and future is the work of Intellistreets in Farmington Hills.
 
Intellistreets technology is found in a variety of settings, from the city of Auburn Hills to Las Vegas, as well as corporate campuses such as Henry Ford Health Systems in Detroit. Comerica Park’s architectural and theatrical lighting, water features, sound effects and video projection systems were designed and produced by Intellistreets. On Nov. 22, Intellistreets will light the Michigan Capitol Christmas tree and several adjacent blocks of downtown Lansing, complete with holiday music piping out of its light fixtures.
 
Essentially, Intellistreets’s wireless technology integrates energy efficient lighting, audio, digital signage, and emergency notification. This allows for a great deal of versatility – finding applications in everything from entertainment to way-finding to public safe. Furthermore, the company says it can achieve 70 percent light energy reduction and provide higher quality illumination than conventional lighting. Products are designed and manufactured in the company’s facilities in Farmington Hills.
 
“There are several competitors that have radio-based lighting controls,” explains Ron Harwood, president of Illuminating Concepts, the parent company of Intellistreets. “Ours distinguishes itself with an algorithm and a process for distributed intelligence.” 
 
Typical city and highway lights operate with photo cells and time clocks, he explains. “Depending on the age of the photo cell and its location it can be off by an hour. Ours has a photo cell in every luminary that sends its data to a central server where the aggregate of all light levels in that district are pulled and averaged, thereby being far more granular and allowing for more energy.”
 
While the technology offers obvious savings, there are certainly costs associated with implementation. “I think communities are doing the best that they can to find the financial resources to begin the process of relighting their neighborhoods,” Harwood says. “In this economic climate, tax bases being what they are, just having the funds to change the lights from HID (high intensity discharge) sources to a more efficient LED source is very difficult for a city. Even though there is an energy payback in just changing the lights, it still difficult to come up with the money.” 
 
Harwood claims that municipalities are able to recoup their investment within five years, but they still need the front money to retrofit, he says.
 
Along with light quality and cost-efficiency, Intellistreets enhances personal and public safety. This, along with cost-efficiency, is attractive to cities like Detroit, which Harwood expects will add Intellistreets to the areas around its sports stadiums and along the riverfront. 
 
“Intellistreets is not only an entertainment system, but it can provide mass notification, way finding, emergency management,” Harwood boasts.
 
The emergency response system is activated by a wireless, blue light call button, which can be installed on virtually anything — street furniture, light pole. “It works on cellular communication and connection through the Intellistreets network,” says Harwood. When the button is pushed, it calls the prescribed number, typically 911, while activating the Intellistreets system, which then notifies emergency responders.
 
A one-time electrical engineer, and now innovator and entrepreneur, Harwood is clearly proud of his product. But he says he was particularly awestruck when his invention illuminated the museum setting of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory in Greenfield Village. 
 
“Nothing made me more excited than to go on the grounds of Thomas Edison’s lab and install a new lighting source,” he says. “The same thing is true in other historic areas. We’re hoping very soon to do some lighting management and retrofit in the historic French Quarter of New Orleans. The idea is if you make the light pleasant and it saves you more than 50 percent in energy costs, everyone wins.”