Bringing innovation to light

Building on its industrious past, Newcastle is undergoing a digital reinvention through the rollout of new, connected lighting infrastructure – the first stage in its ambitious smart city strategy.With a rich history of producing material such as coal, steel and copper, Newcastle has been a city full of industrial progress and achievement.

Demand for such resources has evolved over time, and the nature of the industrial hub subsequently changed with the times.

Now, Newcastle is reinventing its industrial persona as it takes steps to implement an ambitious smart city plan that will see the New South Wales city become a beacon of innovation in the digital age.

Newcastle City Council’s smart city strategy has been in development for a number of years. Part of that strategy is the Hunter Innovation Project (HIP) – the brainchild of the Council and its collaborative partners, which include the University of Newcastle, Newcastle Now and Hunter DiGiT.

The HIP is funded by a $9.8 million commitment from the NSW Government through the Hunter Infrastructure and Investment Fund and an $8 million contribution from its partners and investors.

The project involves the installation of smart technology and Wi-Fi throughout the city’s CBD, and the establishment of an innovation hub and digital precinct. The aim is to deliver these concepts by 2019.

The four-storey hub is being built in Newcastle’s CBD to bring together researchers, students, developers, entrepreneurs, investors, technical specialists and the like. It will link with and showcase the University of Newcastle’s existing innovation and entrepreneur programs and form part of the institution’s Integrated Innovation Network to facilitate the launch of start-ups, attract investment to the Hunter Region and encourage digital innovation.

The digital precinct is a designated zone within the city that will provide fibre-based broadband to city buildings, complementing new and upgraded tech-integrated public domain. This precinct is aimed at giving the city and Hunter Region a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining tech firms and digital and creative businesses and industries.

At the core of the HIP is ‘smart city’ infrastructure – an array of Wi-Fi linked sensors and integrated technology throughout the city’s CBD.

Newcastle City Council’s Smart City Coordinator Nathaniel Bavinton says the HIP team wanted to come up with smart city infrastructure that had multiple applications and could be future-proofed for integration with technological developments down the line.

“We spent a long time researching different applications of smart city infrastructure and became aware of other smart city trials, such as Adelaide and on the Sunshine Coast. We went out looking for the best way to evolve our smart city concept, and through the expertise we had gathered and their experience, we became aware of ideas like smart technology poles.

“When we had discussions around the subject of smart city infrastructure and what we thought it was, smart lighting came up pretty quickly,” explains Dr. Bavinton. “We think of smart lighting initially as something that uses LED lighting to achieve a sustainability gain. With the addition of smart controls these lighting deployments can be really responsive to need and more easily monitored and managed.”

However, the HIP required a multifaceted piece of infrastructure, something that would do more than just light the road or footpath. The HIP sought tenders for the lighting component of the project, ultimately selecting three different suppliers on a panel all with their own variations on the product.

The end result is a modular system that can be adapted to different requirements as they arise and incorporates the latest communication and energy-saving lighting technologies.

Dr. Bavinton says the smart poles comprise technology that’s available off the shelf right now, and they’re designed to work with future technological developments within the wider smart city strategy are laid out and introduced.

“The base pole and mid-tier sections come with different functions, and the LED light up the top is designed to incorporate different lighting functions. It also includes an antennae on top for Wi-Fi and other communications,” he says.

“The mid-tier sections has a camera for CCTV. We won’t be using it for that function, but we’ll use those visual sensors for traffic data analysis.”

The lighting can be dimmed via controls or cloud-based apps to help reduce energy consumption.

Lighting sensors that can detect and determine when one of the lights is required on the street, when a car goes past, for instance, is an energy-saving concept Dr. Bavinton says Newcastle Council will be exploring using the smart poles.

“We can trial all of that technology, but roadway classifications and regulations around lighting levels mean we can’t really use sensor-responsive ‘follow me’ lighting just yet on a wide scale,” he says.

Dr. Bavinton says applications such as environmental sensors, smart parking systems and even electric vehicle charging stations are all destined for the Newcastle smart technology pole.

Up to 50 of these smart poles will be installed in Newcastle’s East End over the coming months to create a pilot site for testing these technologies and more.

Dr. Bavinton says a significant portion of these initial technology poles will be installed around Newcastle’s Foreshore Park, and will have functions built in to service events for this recreational area such as public address speakers and placemaking lighting features.

“It’s the first demonstration space in terms of physical aspects of our smart city strategy, but we’re doing it at a scale that is bigger than any other city in Australia,” states Dr. Bavinton.

The goal is to facilitate open-ended services and applications to improve ease of access, efficiency and livability of the city for its inhabitants, businesses and visitors. By the end of the rollout, Newcastle will have well over 300 of these technology-integrated poles placed around the city.

Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes welcomes the rollout of the lighting infrastructure and its potential to help shape the future of the city.

“This is just the beginning of a new era in which we’ll see sensor-based smart lighting and other technology help to make the city run more efficiently and provide valuable data insights for businesses, advanced manufacturers and entrepreneurial industries,” he says.

“At the end of the roll-out in two years, this installation will be the biggest and most functional smart lighting installation in Australia.”

Dr. Bavinton says the first step in implementing the HIP and Newcastle City Council’s wider smart city strategy has been a long and complicated process, and there’s still plenty more to figure out in the days to come.

“The city is going through a real moment with significant investment from council and the NSW Government in the revitalisation of one of Australia’s great cities. Newcastle is getting bigger, growing and evolving, the face of it is changing and we are focused on harnessing this opportunity to implement more smart technology into the fabric of the city,” he says. “For Newcastle, it’s a very big and exciting approach and it’s a really big part of what the city can be about as we move into the future.”

Dr. Bavinton is adamant that the concept of the ‘smart city’ and being prepared for adopting new technological innovation needs to be taken very seriously by other Australian cities and local governments in the coming years.

“Smart cities are not just about creating innovation, but implementing these ideas effectively to keep us competitive in a digital economic environment. The question is how do cities respond to digital transformation – to both cope with it and benefit from it?” he says.

“Mega trends like this are not only to do with what’s here now, but what is still to come. Cities that aren’t already adapting are going to be blindsided in the future.”

With projects like the smart technology pole deployment, Newcastle is well placed to be leading the way.

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