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Smart-Poles in Seoul: A Sandbox for Digital Innovation

From intelligent warning systems to a hub for disaster response drones – the S-Pole project intends to explore flexible functions that can be integrated into 190 new smart poles to be deployed around the South Korean capital.

Seoul’s Metropolitan Government announced plans to construct the 190 smart poles (S-poles) by the end of this year. S-poles are a city infrastructure where traffic lights, streetlights, closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs), and security lights are combined with a range of information and telecommunications technologies (ICT), digital technologies such as public wi-fi, smart CCTVs, IoT sensors, and drones.

The move follows installation of 26 S-poles by the metropolitan government in February at six locations including Seoul Plaza, Sungnyemun Gate, and Cheonggyecheon stream. To enable systematic expansion and institutionalisation of S-poles throughout the city, Seoul completed 10 standard models and installation and operation guidelines. The 10 standard models have a flexible set of functions that can be added or combined based on the surrounding environment’s needs. The guidelines include application plans for information service based on object recognition, urban phenomenon analysis based on S-DoT (Seoul’s data collection IoT sensors), and city guide QR code.

The 190 additional smart poles will be set up in Guro, Dongjak, Gangdong and Jongno. The new pilot project involves advanced versions of the S-poles with charging stations for electric vehicles and drone stations for monitoring emergencies.

According to the metropolitan government, it is building a foundation for the future where autonomous driving and telecommunications technologies can also be connected through cooperative-intelligent transport systems (C-ITS) and 5G signal repeaters.

Personal Comment:

Street lamps and traffic lights arguably provide the perfect physical platform for many devices that we may want or need to underpin the basis of digital platforms. They are ubiquitous and provide a strategic (and privileged) access literally right on top of the road system. If you are looking to implement digital, smart services for mobility, this is prime real estate.

We’ve previously covered the use of street lamps as a test platform for V2X devices such as lidar on a small scale, but what’s interesting here is that Seoul’s Metropolitan Government is intending to expand this concept both in terms of the total number of so-called Smart Poles (to over 200) as well to three additional use cases. Those being charging stations for EVs, drones and CCTVs equipped with ‘abnormal sound detection’ capabilities. This is in addition to already existing use cases being a platform for public wifi, 5G repeaters, intelligent warning lights and a number of other IoT devices.

It could be easy to dismiss some of these uses as pure gimmicks – for example I am not totally convinced about the use of them as docking or charging stations for drones. But taking all the uses mentioned here in aggregate, this appears to be a real, scaled-up attempt by the metropolitan government to be a living lab for as many ‘smart city’ technologies as possible. Even if only a handful of these technologies prove useful, they will have shown the way forward for what a humble street lamp can offer us in the future.

Written by Bobby Chen
RISE Mobility & Systems (Elektromobilitet)