The invention of the light bulb was a game-changer in human history. And although Thomas Edison usually gets the credit for it’s inception, the truth is that many people contributed to the concept, and for almost 200 years, that concept hasn’t changed much.
But take a step into Terminal B at Newark Liberty International Airport and you will first-hand be exposed to the latest ground-breaking technology in lighting, because not only are the 171 recently installed LED fixtures indeed very bright when you look up at them, they are different than any other light fixture in the entire world for one reason: They’re actually looking back down at you!
That’s right — Terminal B at Newark Airport, which caters to several international airlines such as British Airways, Lufthansa and Air France, is currently experimenting with light fixtures that are also video cameras. And they’re way more than that: Each individual light fixture is equipped with state-of-the-art microchips, sensors, and video cameras, and all them are linked to one another through a wireless surveillance network.
According to the NY Times, “the light fixtures are part of a new wireless network that collects and feeds data into software that can spot long lines, recognize license plates and even identify suspicious activity, sending alerts to the appropriate staff.”
For example, say someone leaves a suspicious bag in the terminal and it hasn’t been picked up for several minutes: The network of lights will recognize this and alert the authorities, which in this case, is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, seeing as they are the ones who (for now) owns and maintains the data that the network collects.
The company that’s developed the technology being used in Newark is called Sensity Systems, but other companies such as Cisco Systems and Philips are already scrambling to get in on the market. “We see outdoor lighting as the perfect infrastructure to build a brand new network” said Hugh Martin, Sensity’s Chief executive.
The NY Times goes on to say that, “Sensity’s technology…would allow light fixtures and sensors to pinpoint a gunshot, sense an earthquake or dangerous gas, or spot a person stopping at various cars in a parking lot.” And in a setting such as, say, a shopping mall, “…the system could send an alert to a smartphone, showing empty spaces [in a parking lot], or a coupon.”
But of course, with new and emerging technologies comes questions regarding how our privacy rights as a society will be affected. Some are already calling for a policy framework to regulate the use of this technology.
Regardless, you can expect to see this technology slowly become the new standard in the coming years, especially as the software becomes more sophisticated and cheaper. Places like Las Vegas and Copenhagen, Denmark are already experimenting with city-wide uses of this technology, and at Newark Airport, they are already making plans to install the lights throughout the entire airport.
“No one really wanted the smartphone 20 years ago because they didn’t know they could have it,” said Fred Maxik, founder and chief technology officer of Lighting Sciences Group, which manufactures LEDs. “And I think the same is true of lighting today: No one knows what lighting is going to be capable of.”