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Q: How does BMW enter the streetlighting business? A: It partners

Comes with streetlight: BMW is known for making cars like the BMW M X6 above, but it is now getting into the streetlighting business through cross-industry partnerships. What's next, roads?

It seemed a bit of a leap last month when German automaker BMW announced it was entering the streetlighting business with a combination pole that serves as both an LED streetlamp and a car charger.

BMW makes cars. But streetlights? How is it going to do that? Surely it’s not retooling a Mini plant to start cranking out outdoor overhead luminaires or doing anything like that. It must be contracting out the job, right?

Being the curious types here at Lux, we asked BMW those questions when we first reported on on their hybrid product, called Light and Charge (their press release for Light and Charge had provided no clues), but we hadn’t heard back from them by press time.

BMW eventually answered. Not in great detail, but with enough information so that we can report: The carmaker is indeed partnering with lighting companies.

‘We are working with a small group of highly innovative start-ups and companies,’ a BMW spokeswoman told Lux via email.

And as we ruminated last month, BMW didn’t have to look any further than its own home town of Munich for one of its comrades-in-light.

But that collaborator is not Munich-based lighting giant Osram, the former Siemens unit. Or if Osram is onboard, BMW chose not to say so.

The Munich mate: Eluminocity, which BMW said specialises in ‘connecting lighting systems.’ The company is targeting the fledgling market for ‘Smart Cities’ (note the ‘city’ in its name) connected by digital LED lighting, a concept in which lights equipped with sensors and tied into information networks would provide information on everything from traffic conditions to air quality to emergency situations and crowd behaviour.

Eluminocity sees an expanded role for itself in, among other things, detecting available parking spaces, information which it would presumably feed to motorists via smartphone apps. With a small ‘e,’ the company’s website notes:

‘eluminocity is a start-up company, which developed in cooperation with market leaders from the automotive industry a concept for urban infrastructures. The product offers LED based light fixtures with integrated charging infrastructure for e-mobility solutions to be rolled out in entire neighborhoods or even citys. By the use of integrated sensor the lighting system can help to easier find parking spaces or further reduce energy due to precence detection. This innovation makes the eluminocity system a vital component of a Smart City.’

But it takes more than one connected lighting partner to make a Swiss army knife of a streetpole.

Who else is involved? BMW said that Innsbruck-based Bartenbach will provide ‘expertise in optical elements and light planning.’ Bartenbach is a custom lighting maker  and designer with a raft of ongoing projects including concert halls,museums, office buildings, universities, mosques and cathedrals around the world.

For the electric car charger, BMW has tapped Berlin-based Ebee Smart Technologies, which claims to make chargers compatible with any electric vehicle, regardless of the vehicle’s socket type.

The BMW initiative marks one of the latest stops along the ever widening lighting industry convergence trail. As lighting goes digital with LEDs –  light-emitting diodes – it is attracting a wealth of companies from outside the industry interested in tapping into LEDs’ readiness to link into information and communication networks. In addition to BMW, many companies have arrived from the internet industry, including Apple, Google, CiscoDeutsche Telekom, Nokia and others.

It all augurs an interesting but bumpy ride into the future for conventional lighting companies.

Photo is from BMW