Philadelphia Pilot Will Use Streetlight Sensors To Track Environment, Sidewalk Usage

The city of Philadelphia, PA is conducting a pilot project with the installation of optical sensors on street lights that can track environmental factors and how city sidewalks are being used. A single block in the city’s center was chosen due to its high level of transit and mix of residential and commercial uses. The SmartBlockPHL pilot is run by the city along with Comcast, Juganu, and U.S. Ignite. The pilot project began in December of 2021 and will run through the end of this year.

The optical sensors are able to detect and collect real-time data on pedestrian, vehicular, and bicycle traffic – as well as weather conditions, such as air quality and humidity. Using these smart lights means that the city no longer needs to send out workers to manually collect this type of information and has the added advantage of being able to collect and transmit data in real-time. The equipment in use has come at no cost to the city, as it was donated by U.S. Ignite. 

Noting complaints about privacy issues from other cities using similar technology, the SmartCitiesPHL project has addressed these issues by ensuring that none of the real-time video or audio footage of passersby is accessible by the city or its partners. 

“I don’t think we need to collect data that might be of concern to some of our community members in order to do the jobs that we want to do as a city,” SmartCitiesPHL Director Emily Yates said. “We’re very cautious to not collect data that has PII — that’s personally identifiable information — in it.”

The aggregated data from the pilot will eventually be shared publicly on Open Data Philly. The city expects to use the analyzed data collected to aid in decisions regarding the use of such optical sensors, and their future locations.