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Jamais Cascio, 23 Nov 05

starsight.jpgStarSight is one of those ideas that makes one wonder why it wasn't developed years ago. StarSight combines a street light -- something which can bring down crime rates dramatically -- with solar panel, wireless network (WiFi or WiMax), remote management, local network access, and (optionally) hookups for charging small devices. The designers, UK-based Kolam Partnership and Singapore's Nex-G, describe StarSight as being a key element of a "virtual utility," a low-cost, low-maintenance provider of intangible but very useful services such as public lighting and wireless networks. All of this is very cool, and makes a great deal of sense, but there's one last element that makes it truly worldchanging:

Its first deployment is in Cameroon, and the designers have explicitly intended the system for use in the rapidly-urbanizing developing world. Mike Butcher at the Financial Times has the details.

A technology to roll out green energy street lighting along with telecommunications and power could well be the great leap forward for which Africa is looking.
Yannick Gaillac, founding partner of the Kolam Partnership, is enthusiastic: “This project will definitely change lives for the poorest people in the world and that’s what I wanted to do. We didn’t invent these basic technologies, but we are gathering them together in one solution.”

Morocco, China and India are said to be next on StarSight's list for potential sites for the system. And the set-up is not limited to lighting and communication -- other potential uses include disaster warning systems, pollution monitors, and other location-aware network services.

(Thanks for the tip, Mike!)

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These are a fine idea, even considering the light pollution they'll bring, but while these are destined for the developing world, they are sure to be magnets for some very developed world problems: birds, droppings, sneakers, and stones. The panel pictured above looks extremely exposed to such nuisances, so I hope that the designers are taking street life into consideration in future revisions.

Posted by: dp on 24 Nov 05

Well, solar lamp-posts are being introduced in a lot of places, but the added wireless sounds like a good idea. Can't that mosquito-killing magnet be incorporated with the lamp and the wireless? What about incorporating wireless relays into wind turbine towers, which are much taller than lamp-posts?

Posted by: manofsan on 24 Nov 05

If they used the solar panels to make a shade or bus stop shelter for pedestrians it would be even better.

Re debris on top, it might be possible to create a mount for the panels so that any significant weight causes the panel to tip, dumping the debris and returning to its original position.

Posted by: macrumpton on 24 Nov 05

Its hard to tell with that pic but the panel is at quite an engle and as such nothing can sit on top of it. Birds wont sit on its solar panels as they cant get a grip they instead poop on the non panel edge.

As for rocks most panels now are made to handle baseball sized hail a rock thrown by a person is easy after that.

Posted by: wintermane on 24 Nov 05

I think this is a great idea, but we should limit their use to burgeoning Third World cities.

Their development and manufacture could be subsidized by selling them to American cities as emergency infrastructure!

Imagine two variant models; one with traffic lights, and one with a illuminated traffic alert message board.

Stick these up along the major boulevards, and at freeway ramps, and your city will better be able to handle blackouts and communication outages.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on 24 Nov 05

as many studies have shown, streetlights do not reduce crime. at best lighting only moves crime to other locations. at worst they give the criminal light to work by.

Posted by: Eric S. Johansson on 25 Nov 05

" many studies have shown, streetlights do not reduce crime. "

Exactly what I was thinking. And even worse, I can imagine country townships sticking these up all over the place which extends the already horrendous light-polution that bathes our cities. I love the beauty of night sky and it is such a shame that this wonder is now denied to many Western children.

Posted by: Michael on 26 Nov 05

Street lights do several things.

The ones that mainly cause light polution are there to enable shopping and are far brighter and more tightly spaced then out where people live.
The ones in certain housing areas are designed to move crime away from those areas and to lower value areas where the crime rate has a lesser impact on housing prices and thus taxable land values.

Posted by: wintermane on 26 Nov 05

I'm quite surprised at the comments about light pollution. They seem to suggest that people in the developing world don't deserve to be able to walk home at night without being mugged. If you read the article, it references actual research which shows that streetlighting reduces crime - not to mention the added benefit that foreign development workers are more likely to stay in a country with a reliable lighting and power infrastructure. And let's not forget the billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide given off by the parrafin lamps which street sellers use because there is no electrical/solar street lighting.

Posted by: Mike Butcher on 29 Nov 05

Whilst developing this project and completing research for the business plan I was moved by a single photo more than any other image. At the edge of a poor and unlit township where the city lights start, 5 school children sitting on the pavement doing their homework under a street light.

Light pollution is a problem in some places but if you are trying to educate your children by candle light surely it comes a poor second in your considerations.

People need light to improve their security and prosperity. StarSight allows this whilst remaining carbon positive and distributing broadband internet access into facilities in these same townships.

Posted by: Steve Flaherty on 29 Nov 05



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