Streetlights Can Do That? An Entrepreneur Creates Smarter Cities

Electronics GeekMom
Superdome in New Orleans, La with Intellistreet lighting
Superdome in New Orleans, La. with Intellistreet lighting. Photo courtesy of Illuminating Concepts. Used with permission

What do music, the iPhone and Hurricane Katrina have to do with streetlights? If you are Ron Harwood, everything. Ron is the inventor of Intellistreets, an LED street light system that goes way beyond simply lighting our streets.

Ron Harwood is the inventor of Intellistreets, a system of connected technologies installed within city street light posts to form an intelligent wireless network for services, safety, and entertainment (streetlights as part of the Internet of Things). Ron is also the owner of at least 15 patents in the sound and lighting industry. Although he is an electrical engineer, his passion for much of his life has been music and people. From marching on Washington during the Civil Rights movement and learning to play music from the likes of Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, and Pete Seeger to making a demo recording for Joni Mitchell and managing Sippy Wallace’s comeback in the late 60’s, Ron lived for music. He even introduced Sippy Wallace to Bonnie Raitt, who ended up putting two of Sippy’s songs on her first album, which was a huge success. But when Columbia Records called to offer Ron a record producer job in New York City, Ron chose a different path.

For Ron, lighting, music, technology, and people are inseparably part of his life. Like Steve Jobs, Ron did not know how the dots would connect moving forward, but he followed his heart. Early in Ron’s career, he spent most of his time in the entertainment business, managing entertainment lighting, and sound for Disney parks and bands. But after 9-11, things changed. Having lost friends in the tragedy, Ron started taking life more seriously. He started rethinking how people enjoy and interact with iconic U.S. cities. What if Intellistreets had been installed in New York City at the time of 9-11? Could the system have saved lives? And after hurricane Katrina, Ron’s respect for the people and culture of New Orleans, especially its musicians, compelled him to finally put his ideas into action. Ron pooled his talents and created a product to connect people to their cities in a way that is beautiful, sustainable, entertaining, intelligent, and interactive. Like the iPhone, this system can do much more than make a call or light a street. 


Imagine driving through town and the street signs dynamically change to display a detour message, a digital banner advertises the city’s centennial celebration–the streetlights start changing color to a deep blue. You hear music and the lights begin to ‘dance’ to the beat.  You park your car, find a convenient Wi-Fi connection, and immediately see the schedule of events for the centennial celebration on your smart phone screen.  All of a sudden, the lights start flashing red and the music stops. The banners now display an emergency message – someone pressed the blue emergency button to report a gunman in one of the downtown office buildings. A voice broadcasts over the speaker system instructing people to remain calm and to return to their automobiles. The street signs now display “evacuation route.” Within minutes, police successfully clear the area and apprehend the suspect. The lights, music, banner, street signs, Wi-Fi connection, emergency call button, and even the live police call over the loudspeaker all emanate from the city’s streetlight poles.

Intellistreets graphic
Intellistreets Features courtesy of Illuminating Concepts. Used with permission.

With Intellistreets, Ron has elevated the lowly streetlight to one of the most intelligent features in the city landscape. Intellistreets is part of the smart city movement to make cities more livable, sustainable, and connected. The internationally renowned TED organization even awarded its prestigious TED prize 2012 to The City 2.0.  Because lighting accounts for 19 percent of all electricity consumed according to long-time lighting innovator, Philips, it commands large portions of a city’s budget. That is a big reason why Intellistreest is important. A global study found that LED lights could produce energy savings of up to 80 percent when managed by smart controls. That is exactly what Intellistreets does. When connected to a “smart grid,” Intellistreets’ sophisticated software dims lighting over large areas in “off-peak” hours to intelligently conserve energy. Yes, Intellistreets illuminates the streets while reducing energy costs with its over 16 thousand steps of dimming, maximizing the life of the LED  (which is more than double the lifetime of traditional street lights). Additionally, LED lighting is unidirectional, making it two to three times brighter than traditional lighting. Defining Intellistreets as lighting is like saying that Apple is a computer company. Housing a small microprocessor with an onboard database and removable storage, the inside of an Intellistreets unit resembles an iPhone more than it does a street lamp. With proprietary software enhancements that communicate with numerous possible environmental sensors, the system is quite intelligent. Here are just some of the current and future functions that can be built into an Intellistreets lamppost:

  • Touch tablet App-based administration
  • Color-changing LED lighting synchronized to music broadcast over internal speakers
  • Changeable digital lamp post banner (customizable for each and every light pole for advertising, coupons, maps, emergency messages, events, etc)
  • Changeable digital street signs
  • Real-time environmental monitoring sensors (to detect gas leaks, radiation, CO2, pollen, etc.) communicated in easy to read, actionable text messages
  • Wi-Fi hot spots
  • Emergency call button to police station
  • Text to banner for Intellistreets admin. users – displays an emergency message or news updates on the digital banners from a text message within seconds
  • Mesh network for redundancy (the system continues to operate even when individual units within the lighting network become damaged)
  • Intelligent sensors auto dim lighting in off-peak hours to conserve energy
  • Electric car charging station
  • Parking meter and ticket pay station
  • Any other service that you can bolt onto a light pole.
Ron Harwood
Intellistreets Inventor Ron Harwood – photo courtesy of Illuminating Concepts. Used with permission.

Ron Harwood searched within himself, combined his experience, expertise, and passions to create a product that may change the way we think about, interact with, and even live within our cities. His Intellistreets platform is already gaining ground in some impressive places. Watch for Intellistreets in Qatar for the FIFA games, in Rio for the 2016 Olympics, at major Hollywood studios and even college campuses around the U.S. Currently, Intellistreets lights parts of some iconic U.S. cities, including Detroit and New Orleans.

So, the next time you’re in Detroit or catching a Saints’ game in the Superdome, note the tiny orbs of LED goodness and appreciate Ron Harwood’s lifetime of eclectic American experiences that combined to bring Intellistreets to life.

Liked it? Take a second to support GeekMom and GeekDad on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!