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Smart streetlights keep the big ships moving in Hamburg

The road to more ships: A smart streetlighting system in Hamburg will help Europe's second busiest port handle more vessels as it chases Rotterdam for business.

If you’re already  the second largest container port in Europe and you aspire to grow even bigger, how do you do it?

By outfitting the area streetlights with sensors that help direct ship and road traffic, of course.

That’s what Germany’s Port of Hamburg is doing. It has installed sensors on light poles that keep an eye on the state of roads and bridges in the port. For instance, the sensors know exactly when operators have raised the port’s massive lift bridge to allow ships to pass underneath, and thus how to reroute road traffic which cannot cross the bridge.

‘We connect moving bridges with traffic management to increase the traffic flow in the port,’ says Jens Meier, CEO of the Hamburg Port Authority, in a video (see below). ‘When a ship is coming, the bridge will open. You can re-route the traffic to another route.’

The lighting infrastructure, provided by Philips, also detects any road incidents such as accidents or traffic jams, and alerts port management immediately. And it includes environmental sensors for air quality, as well as motions sensors that turn lights on and off as needed for pedestrians and cyclists in a ‘follow me’ lighting scheme.

The new ‘smartROAD’ system is a key part of the port’s effort to handle more than the 10,000 ships a year it currently loads and unloads. It is one of the first deployments of a broader ‘internet of everything’ smart city collaboration between the city of Hamburg and information technology company Cisco, which the two parties agreed to in April 2014.

“We have the challenge to get more containers through the port of Hamburg,’ says Sebastian Saxe, the port’s chief information officer. ‘The technology is the main enabler for this opportunity.’

Cisco executive vice president Wim Elfink describes the system as connecting people, processes, data and things, noting that the combination will help Hamburg develop into a ‘seatropolis.’

The broader Hamburg-Cisco project includes many other smart city deployments, such as sensors that alert motorists to the availability of parking spaces.

The rise of a ‘seatropolis’:

Top photo is from Batintherain via Wikimedia.