Many companies are developing smart streetlights for cities that combine energy-efficient LED lighting with wireless communications and sensors.
A startup called Totem Power is taking that concept a step farther by adding battery storage to each pole and an electric vehicle charging port.
Each pole, called a Totem, would also incorporate solar cells for energy generation with LED lighting, and would communicate via 4G LTE wireless -- and eventually -- 5G wireless.
Totem Power announced the product in November.
On Friday, CEO Brian Lakamp said in an interview that his company's first paying customer will deploy the Totem late this summer in the U.S. The customer is a private entity and is not a power utility. Lakamp refused to disclose other details.
In concept, the Totem could be used by retail malls and on university and corporate campuses, as well as along city streets. Combining energy with communications positions Totem Power to solve many of the problems facing cities, Lakamp said.
For example, with battery storage in the Totem pole, first responders would have access to power during a disaster where the power grid has failed. And locating electric vehicle charging in each pole would give cities and parking lots more flexibility in the locations charging is offered.
Lakamp also said the Totems would be able to store excess power being generated in some regions of the U.S. such as California. "This would provide dynamic balancing for excess power production," he said. "It's storage in a meaningful way with a grid architecture. It would have a massive impact."
With the arrival of 5G wireless on a widespread basis in 2020, Totem could distribute 5G capabilities on each pole with speed and low latency to "support a myriad of transportation services that are just starting to emerge now."
There's potential for the Totem poles to support other smart features eventually since they serve "essentially as server racks that are radio permeable," he said. Many smart streetlights shown at Mobile World Congress in February by Verizon, AT&T, Harman and others operate as network nodes to transmit data from sensors for noise, traffic and air quality.
Cities would need to install a Totem for every 10th existing streetlight or so, Lakamp said. "It could be used in a high traffic vehicle corridor for a bevy of services," he said.
Totem Power hasn't released technical specifications of its devices and is operating on a first round of funding from "interested parties," but hasn't disclosed how much it has raised, Lakamp said. It has recently operated with six employees, though the company expects that to soon double to 12.
Years ago, Lakamp worked at Clear Channel and iHeartRadio, where he developed software to keep radio networks up and running around the clock. "I'm more a product guy than an engineer," he said.
Lakamp attended Mobile World Congress in Barcelona where several conference sessions on smart city technology were held and discussed. A common theme he heard from cities and vendors was how long it has taken for cities to adopt technologies like smart streetlights.
"That talk hasn't put me off," he said. "We're not assuming the rollout is fast. It will accelerate and will move really slowly until it suddenly moves really fast."