Continental is expanding its automotive expertise to smart street lighting. After oil lamps, gas lamps, and electric street lights, LED street lights are the next step towards a lower energy, connected lighting system. Continental says that, in addition to energy savings of around one third, LEDs require less maintenance reducing costs further.

The automotive supplier says its street lights have the potential to improve road safety and convenience thanks to the inclusion of electronics and sensors. Alfred Waldhaeusl, coordinating the project at Continental, said: “The use of LEDs means that the electronics required for control, diagnostics, and communication are already present in the street lights.”

Waldhaeusl explained: “Sensors enable us to identify whether parking spaces in the vicinity of the light are occupied. We can then provide this information either directly or via a cloud to drivers who are looking for a parking space nearby. This way we improve parking management, revenues, and the CO2 footprint of municipalities.”

According to Waldhaeusl, moving objects can also be detected and brightness could therefore be adjusted to match requirements, depending on whether a pedestrian, cyclist, or car is approaching, or the light could even be switched off entirely. Accidents could also be identified, the emergency services alerted and following vehicles could be warned.

Intelligent street light control could also play a key role in automated driving. Additional elements include recording environmental factors such as brightness, temperature, rain, snow, and the formation of ice. LED street lights could also be equipped with charging stations for electric vehicles.

Continental anticipates a range of different versions. Basic LED street lights will provide light only, although they will still require an electronic LED driver to do so. At the next level, LED street lights will include diagnostic functions and therefore automatically provide a communication channel. At stage three, smart features will be added.

Some of these intelligent LED street lights are already in use on the streets of Toulouse. The French city is now enabling Continental to carry out the first field tests in an actual city environment.

Waldhaeusl concluded: “Based on normal service life [of electric street lights], within 15 to 20 years almost all street lights will be LED.”