(Originally published in Macomb Patch, October 28, 2011)
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While the poles have Homeland Security applications, the local installations offer only light, sound and remote access.
by Joni Hubred-Golden
The Intellistreets system is activated in Farmington Hills along 10 Mile Rd.
A Farmington Hills company activated its new wireless network of light poles today near their 10 Mile Rd. offices, as controversy swirled on the Internet about potential applications for the new Intellistreets system.
Illuminating Concepts has installed eight of the patented poles, which have energy efficient LED fixtures, concealed speakers to broadcast audio, and alert indicators that can emit a flashing, colored light. The poles can also be equipped with sensors that measure everything from water levels to footfalls, and may even detect chemical warfare agents, according to information supplied by the company.
The $30,000 cost of the pilot project comes from $791,300 in federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) funds, which the City of Farmington Hills received in 2009.
Mayor Jerry Ellis said the system will make the city safer, more comfortable and "will reduce our energy costs at the same time".
In a demonstration of the street lights after a ribbon cutting ceremony Friday, Illuminating Concepts business development director Jeff Stribbell said the light pole's dimming capability translates directly into energy savings. Lowering the light by 25 percent, for instance would yield a comparable reduction of energy use and lengthen the life of the LED fixture. The pole is warrantied for up to 10 years, he said.
"These issues of security don't always mean that you're being videotaped. They mean, in some cases, that you're being informed."
Hills Fire Chief Corey Bartsch said he thinks the technology "could greatly enhance some of the safety aspects" when it comes to announcing emergencies.
Hills Police Chief Chuck Nebus sounded a little more cautious, and said he's interested in learning more about the system.
"Anytime there's light, to me, that equates with safety," he said. "Any time you can communicate with the public better, that equates with safety, too."
A bit of controversy stirred Friday morning, after the company's Youtube.com video, which noted Intellistreets potential value for Homeland Security, was picked up by blogger Paul Joseph Watson, on infowars.com. Watson wrote: "The transformation of street lights into surveillance tools for Homeland Security purposes will only serve to heighten concerns that the United States is fast on the way to becoming a high-tech police state..." and linked the new poles to concerns over security measures in airports.
Britain's Daily Mail also ran a story warning about "streetlights that can record your conversations and track your movements". But Illuminating Concepts president and creative director Ron Harwood said the system's most important functions are to save energy and to provide people with information.
"These issues of security don't always mean that you're being videotaped. They mean, in some cases, that you're being informed ... that's what we're really hoping that it's used for," he said.
Harwood said the idea for Intellistreets started in conversations he had while working with "Imagineers" at Disney about the challenges they faced in working with crowds in their theme parks. Later, he was touched by the tragic loss of life during terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"It became really obvious to myself and my staff that we could do something that would make people more informed, make them safer and do something for the many thousands of first responders who put their life at risk," he said.
Then Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, he said, and the company saw the importance of creating a system that would include wayfinding, audio alerts and opportunities for emergency responders to see people in need. "From Katrina forward, Intellistreets became a wireless mesh outdoor communication system," Harwood said.