Ordinary Lowly Lampposts Aiming To Stand Tall For Bolstering AI Self-Driving Cars
Are you giving due credit and appreciation to the numerous lampposts wherever you live, work, and play?
Most of us tend to not notice lampposts. Well, actually, you probably notice when they aren’t working and especially at night time when there is darkness rather than a helpful plume of light. That is decidedly an occasion whereby we become aware of a lamppost, ostensibly when they are most needed.
Some estimates suggest that there are over thirty million lampposts in the United States and around 320 million worldwide. Counting of lampposts is not necessarily a pastime or a requirement, thus the number of lampposts is principally an approximation rather than a fully verified figure. It does seem intuitive that there are a lot of them and that they are nearly ubiquitous.
Seems like there is always a need for even more lampposts. You might be driving your car down a road and realize that your headlights alone are not sufficient to adequately light the way ahead. At that moment, your mind fleetingly thinks about the lamppost topic. Why isn’t there a lamppost here? Do people not realize that a lamppost would be worthwhile and boost safety for drivers and pedestrians?
All told, you could reasonably predict that we are inevitably going to have more and more lampposts. Lampposts rarely get removed from a locale. Once they are put in place, taking them away is bound to get flak. Adding more is not usually associated with getting criticism. There are though the qualms about the light pollution of cities and that aspect that you cannot see the beauty of the nighttime skies. That is a consideration, of course.
The lighting of roadways is a longtime tradition. History indicates that the Greeks and the Romans used lanterns and that this was a vital spurring element of their civilizations. There were people specially trained and hired to light the oil lanterns, doing so in an occupational role that we today might refer to as a lamplighter. Perhaps you’ve seen lamplighters in books or movies that showcase candle lighting.
The lampposts of modern times are usually powered by electricity. If you look at the top of a lamppost, you might see the electrical wires that connect the post to an electric grid or network. A lot of the lampposts have been converted over to using underground electrical wiring, which makes the lamppost almost seem magical that it can somehow seemingly function without any direct evidence of receiving power.
To try and reduce the electrical consumption of lampposts, there has been an ongoing effort of adding solar panels to the lamppost. The idea is that perhaps some or possibly all of the power consumed by the use of the lamppost can be gleaned from sunshine. This might not work out particularly well in all locales, especially in places that have very little sunshine. Usually, the solar panel is considered a secondary source of power, and the lamppost is still connected to the electrical grid, thus the lamppost will still function even if there is insufficient power coming from the solar panel or any batteries being used.
You might be under the impression that lampposts are solely used to provide lighting.
Alas, you’d be mistaken in that presumption.
When you think about the nature of a lamppost, the value of having posts that are scattered all about can provide a number of other handy uses. You can hang all kinds of other devices and mechanisms onto that otherwise lowly lamppost.
What might a lamppost be used for other than as a source of lighting?
Tons of things.
You could mount a WiFi electronic communications router onto a lamppost. This would provide anybody nearby with potentially being able to have a clear and perhaps free WiFi connection. That’s pretty handy these days.
Another possibility is to include a 5G transmitter, which can aid in speeding up electronic communications (for my ongoing coverage about the advent of 5G, see the link here).
Digital signs can be mounted onto a lamppost. This is in addition to potentially having a good old-fashioned printed sign too. The nice thing about the digital sign is that it can be changed up in terms of messages shown. Whoever controls the digital sign can send messages to it and have those displayed for any passersby.
Some are aiming to have lampposts become a charger station for Electrical Vehicles (EVs). Yes, that is right, you would park your EV next to the lamppost and plug into the lamppost (using whatever power source it has). Seems kind of oddball or quirky to some, but it makes potential sense as we see more and more EVs on the roadway. There are though some complications that arise as to whether parking in front of the lamppost is sensible in a given circumstance, and other matters make this a bit challenging.
Yet another possibility consists of putting environmental sensors on a lamppost. If you want to track how foul the air is or whether there is an overwhelming amount of noise pollution, you could potentially do so via sprinkling environmental sensors on lampposts in a given area. You can add to this aspect the idea of using conventional weather detecting sensors too, such that they could measure the rainfall, temperatures, and the like.
Some places have put loudspeakers onto their lampposts. This can be handy to blare out a horn when an emergency occurs, such as during an earthquake or a tsunami. The speakers could be used for everyday activities too. Perhaps a speaker might be used to play music and soothe the souls of those that perchance walk past the lamppost.
I realize you might be wearing out in terms of the vast array of ways to use lampposts.
Let’s at least cover one more and something that is at times quite controversial, namely the use of video cameras on lampposts.
Here’s the deal.
Some locales are placing video cameras onto their lampposts. The idea is that this can be handy for security purposes. If someone tries to commit a crime, presumably the video camera will see all. This can then be used to find the suspect and arrest them, or potentially be used as evidence in a criminal trial. There is also the aspect that the video camera can be a deterrent, causing potential crooks to think twice about committing a crime because they know that they are being observed.
There is also the potential for real-time use of such a video camera. Suppose the video camera is being monitored by a security firm or the police. If the video camera is showcasing someone that seems to be on the verge of a criminal act, the appropriate security could be sent to the location.
The reason that this imbues controversy is that the video camera can also be considered an intrusion of privacy. Perhaps the video camera on lampposts will take us down the Big Brother route. All-day long we will all be under constant surveillance. That is worrisome. A counterargument usually given is that if you are in a public place, you are already ostensibly agreeing to be seen. In that logic, the addition of a video camera does not presumably change the circumstances materially.
Anyway, it is going to be an ongoing discussion and debate, that’s for sure.
There is an umbrella rubric often used to refer to these expanded uses of lampposts, typically coined as the possibility of intelligent street lighting or sometimes referred to as smart lampposts. The overarching notion is that a lamppost is more than just a pole and a light. You can turn a lamppost into something much more impressive and altogether beneficial.
Along those lines, I’d like to add an additional and rather an innovative way in which the mighty lamppost can be utilized.
This has to do with traveling cars and traffic aspects. Turns out that a lamppost again is handy, since they tend to be next to roads and streets. Of course, cars proceed along on roads and streets. Ergo, making use of lampposts regarding the traversal of cars and other vehicles is a quite sensible strategy.
These traffic aiding devices could be useful for anybody that perchance is driving nearby. An added twist is that the traffic-related electronic wares could also be used to help in advancing the emergence of self-driving cars. The future of cars entails the advent of self-driving cars.
Self-driving cars are going to be using AI-based driving systems and there won’t be a human driver at the wheel (see my extensive coverage of self-driving cars at this link here).
Here is an intriguing question: How might lampposts that are augmented with electronic-based traffic-related devices aid the advent of AI-based true self-driving cars?
Let’s unpack the matter and see.
Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars
As a clarification, true self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.
These driverless vehicles are considered Level 4 and Level 5 (see my explanation at this link here), while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).
There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.
Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some contend, see my coverage at this link here).
Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).
For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public needs to be forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.
You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.
Self-Driving Cars And Lampposts
For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.
All occupants will be passengers.
The AI is doing the driving.
One aspect to immediately discuss entails the fact that the AI involved in today’s AI driving systems is not sentient. In other words, the AI is altogether a collective of computer-based programming and algorithms, and most assuredly not able to reason in the same manner that humans can.
Why this added emphasis about the AI not being sentient?
Because I want to underscore that when discussing the role of the AI driving system, I am not ascribing human qualities to the AI. Please be aware that there is an ongoing and dangerous tendency these days to anthropomorphize AI. In essence, people are assigning human-like sentience to today’s AI, despite the undeniable and inarguable fact that no such AI exists as yet.
With that clarification, you can envision that the AI driving system won’t natively somehow “know” about the use of traffic-related devices. This is an aspect that needs to be programmed as part of the hardware and software of the self-driving car.
Let’s dive into the myriad of aspects that come to play on this topic.
Lampposts are handy because they usually exist in a stationary position and will remain relatively fixed in place for a lengthy period of time. I’m not suggesting that lampposts are somehow cast in stone and can never be moved, and merely emphasizing that they are generally reliable and won’t suddenly walk down the street on their own.
Furthermore, a lamppost is also useful due to being a post or pole, meaning that it extends upward from the ground level and rises several feet high. You can hang things onto a lamppost and those items will then tend to be above the fray, as it were. This can be useful too since it tends to lessen the chances that people will muck around with the devices. That is definitely a consideration about placing any kind of device into the public sphere, namely that somebody might either fuss with it, attempt to break it, or outright steal it.
Okay, so we have these lampposts that are reliably in specific spots and can retain devices that will have a heightened vantage point and potentially be somewhat safe from tampering (of course, a determined miscreant can still likely do untoward acts if desirous of doing so). And these poles are readily connected to electrical power and are typically next to roadways.
These are rife for use with the latest in edge computing (see my coverage of edge computing at this link here).
Self-driving cars are going to be leveraging edge computing to the advantage of us all.
There will be edge devices that are used for V2I (vehicle-to-infrastructure) electronic communication. Imagine a traffic signal that uses V2I and can beam out electronic signals to indicate whether the upcoming intersection is green, yellow, or red. A self-driving car can receive the signal and accordingly prepare to brake or continue on the gas and proceed unabated through the intersection.
V2I is going to be everywhere. Bridges will be outfitted with V2I that electronically conveys the status of the bridge. If a recent flood has damaged a bridge and it is considered no longer passable for now, the V2I can broadcast a signal warning any vehicles to stay away. On a freeway or highway, if there is debris that is blocking traffic, a V2I nearby could be cautioning cars and trucks to slow down and be prepared for delays.
The V2I is brought about by an electronic device. One question to ponder is where in the heck will all of these V2I devices be placed. Some suggest that V2I devices could be placed onto buildings or other major structures. That might make sense in many cases.
A really convenient place to put these V2I devices would be on lampposts.
Unlike just strapping a V2I to the side of a wall or a girder, the lamppost is going to have electrical power available. This is a crucial aspect for the V2I, else it would either have batteries that run out and need someone to come and replace or charge the batteries (that’s an extra labor cost) or might have solar panels but not necessarily ensure a consistent and all-the-time ready charge.
Self-driving cars that are outfitted with V2I capabilities would be able to easily receive the transmissions. Envision that as a self-driving car makes its way throughout a city, there are numerous V2I devices that the vehicle can communicate with. V2I devices could be placed on one lamppost at every certain distance and provide essentially a continual stream of broadcasting info.
I won’t go into the technological details about V2I herein, other than to point out that of course the V2I has to be digitally secure and data trustworthy.
If a hacker can overtake a V2I, this could be disastrous as the V2I might be misinforming self-driving cars about things that are dangerously untrue or confounding. Some worry that if the V2I devices are placed onto lampposts, this is not yet high enough to prevent or at least discourage hackers from trying to physically access the device. The notion is that maybe the V2I devices should be mounted at the top of telephone poles if the lampposts being considered are not sufficiently high enough.
Some critics say a lamppost can be run over by an errant car, presumably a human-driven car, and knock down the pole, along with also destroying the V2I device. Sure, that is a possibility, but it is quite a rarity and not something so abundant that it would undermine the value of using a lamppost for these purposes.
We can ramp up the use of the lampposts for the advent of self-driving cars by also reconsidering the video cameras that might be included onto those revered poles (recall, earlier I mentioned that lampposts sometimes are outfitted with video cameras).
Here’s what I mean.
A self-driving car is going to make a turn at a tight corner up ahead. There is no viable way to see around the corner, at least not until having committed to making the turn. It would be assuredly handy if there was a means to see around that corner, doing so before starting the turn. Voila, if a video camera was mounted on a lamppost that was near that corner, the camera could be beaming in real-time whatever it sees.
A self-driving car could receive that video and use the video to try and ascertain whether making the turn is safe to do or not. I’ve referred to this capability as a type of computational omnipresence, wherein a self-driving car can glean a bird’s eye view of the surroundings by tapping into video cameras and other sensory devices that are aimed at the streets and roadways being traversed (see my analysis of this omnipresence at the link here).
A cynic might say that we are ultimately going to have everything imaginable hanging on those lampposts. Don’t be surprised, they exhort if perchance one day you astonishingly see a kitchen sink dangling from your local lampposts.
There is a kernel of truth to this type of diatribe in that we have to be measured about what lampposts are going to be used for. We probably don’t want them to look like an unsightly collective of strange-looking doodads and contraptions. Some also wring their hands at the massive electrical bill that might arise for a municipality that lets so many electricity guzzling devices be used. There is also concern about the maintenance and repairs aspects.
And so on.
I won’t necessarily try to defend all of the accessories and augmented uses that are being dreamed up for lampposts, but it is relevant here to briefly talk about the vehicular realm and how safety can be demonstrably enhanced.
It is also important to emphasize that the V2I and related edge computing for aiding self-driving cars will be advantageous to conventional cars too. You can fully expect that human-driven cars will be including V2I receivers and showcase the messages to humans at the wheel of a vehicle. Plus, anything that makes driving safer, regardless of human-driven or via self-driving capability, will save lives and also likely reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities too.
The light provided by a lamppost gets little praise and rarely receives the glory that it deserves.
The first street lights in the United States that were electrified have been attributed to occurring around 1879 (before that date, street lights were usually gas lamps). Some would say it is about time that lampposts become “intelligent” or “smart” and increase their worth to society.
Lampposts did get some acclaim when Gene Kelly opted to do his famous Singin’ In The Rain, for which he danced and swirled by using a lamppost during the enchanting treat. The lowly lamppost can still reach for the skies, even today, and stand tall to be a vital contributor toward the advent of self-driving cars.
That deserves yet another delightful song.