Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Tvilight: The 'talking' streetlamps that will lighten your heart (but not your wallet)

Did you know that each year streetlights in Europe generate as much greenhouse gas as 20 million cars and cost the public over €10 billion? Dutch designer Chintan Shah did and while on a night flight, looking down over our glowing planet, he had a bright idea. What if streetlamps only glowed when they needed to? Did you know that each year streetlights in Europe generate as much greenhouse gas as 20 million cars and cost the public over €10 billion? Dutch designer Chintan Shah did and while on a night flight, looking down over our glowing planet, he had a bright idea. What if streetlamps only glowed when they needed to?
HIDE CAPTION
Incandescent world
Light on demand
360 coverage
Safe circle of light
Plug-and-play sensor
Glow-in-the-dark road
dynamic paint
The night owl
Nature-powered streetlight
Trash-powered streetlight
Bioluminescent trees
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tvilight is a streetlamp system that brightens in the presence of people, cars and bicycles
  • New system could slash energy bills by 80% in cities around the world
  • Europe spends $13 billion annually on fueling street lights
  • Artist: "Imagine ... you have this boulevard of interactive lights"

(CNN) -- Imagine if a streetlamp knew you were coming. It could announce your arrival from a distance. If you were on a date, it could help set the mood. It could ring in the new year with dazzling effects, change color at will, even announce days in advance when its bulb was set to blow.

In fact, there is nothing future-tense about this fantastical vision; in a handful of municipalities in Europe, streetlights have become downright chatty.

The system is called Tvilight. It was invented by Dutch designer Chintan Shah while a student at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. When flying overseas, he noticed streetlamps lighting streets that, in the middle of the night, were empty and desolate.

"I started researching," he says. "I wondered, why are they burning? How much does it cost? Is this a problem? I discovered some amazing numbers."

Read more: 12 amazing designs from the past 100 years

Shah found that Europe pays over €10 billion ($13 billion) a year powering streetlights, which accounts for more than 40% of government energy bills.

This translates into 40 million tons of CO2 emissions annually -- enough to power 20 million cars. His solution was to create an intelligent, "on-demand" lighting system using wireless sensors. Streetlights only light up in the presence of a person, bicycle or car, and remain dim the rest of the time.

Shah has also developed the technology to distinguish between people and smaller animals, like cats and mice, so it would avoid lighting up unnecessarily.

"I thought, why should each citizen pay for street lights that aren't being used? We now have a solution for that."

Spurred on by his professors, Shah entered the concept in a campus competition and won. Delft handed over their facilities and gave him the financial backing to create a demonstration on campus. Since then, Tvilight has been implemented in four municipalities in Holland and one in Ireland, with many more to come.

'Earthquake table' made to save lives
Refugee saves lives with mine detonator
Robotics transforms waste recycling

"We have enquiries from Israel, Turkey, the United States, Australia, India and Japan. The problem is not a lack of enquiries, it's the team's capacity to deliver the solution worldwide," he says.

Read more: Technology of tomorrow

Shaw reckons the system will slash energy costs and CO2 emissions by 80%, and maintenance by another 50%, thanks to the integrated wireless sensor that allows lamps to alert a central control center when it's time to be serviced.

Tvilight's primary purpose is to conserve energy. But when CNN invited Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde to offer advice as a mentor for Shah, he pointed to the technology's more artistic potential.

"How can we use the technology to make environments more human? More sustainable? More natural?" asks Roosegaarde. "We want to make it like it's your friend, or it's an animal, or it does things you don't know about. It's not just a machine with a feedback loop, but something that has its own intelligence and is willing to negotiate, to hack you in the same way you hack it."

So, for example, an ambulance or fire truck could communicate with the lamps to make them flicker red before they drive through.

Read more: The bright world of electric paint

How can we use the technology to make environments more human? More sustainable? More natural?
Daan Roosegarde

"It could save the ambulance two minutes because the light could tell everyone it's coming, and they could move aside more quickly because we control the streets, we control the lamps," says Shah. "It could save a life."

Roosegaarde suggests the uses could be "pragmatic or super poetic."

"Imagine I can write a piece of software, so when I take my girlfriend out for a walk, it does something special, and wow, you have this boulevard of interactive lights," he adds.

It is the type of thinking that garners endless scenarios. Depending on the occasion, streetlamps can flicker and change color to create any number of designs. Shah envisions that during a live sporting event, a street could even spell out the score.

"This is not just about saving electricity, it's not just about the medium, it's about the message, and what you want it to generate," says Roosegaarde.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Liquidity lightbulbs at the Milan Furniture Show 2012
See the full coverage of CNN's Blueprint -- a new series exploring the very latest design and technology trends.
December 9, 2013 -- Updated 1901 GMT (0301 HKT)
A swat team assess risk before raiding a building
A baseball-sized shock absorbent camera that can be thrown into a disaster zone to assess risks posed to rescuers.
November 11, 2013 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Astronauts wash and drink from the same continuously recycled source for years. So why do we not do the same on Earth?
October 25, 2013 -- Updated 0946 GMT (1746 HKT)
The Titan Arm
A new strap-on external bicep called the Titan Arm allows humans to lift very heavy objects by giving them instant super strength.
October 11, 2013 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
See the origami kayak take shape in our 40-second time lapse video.
September 27, 2013 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
The Seaboard is a musical instrument like a keyboard that allows you to bend the pitch and volume of each note.
The 'Seaboard keyboard' is a tech forward interpretation of the piano, that reimagines what a keyboard can do.
September 19, 2013 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Phonebloks smartphone
What if you could build your own smartphone that would last you for the rest of your life?
September 17, 2013 -- Updated 0849 GMT (1649 HKT)
3D printed gun
Why did the Victoria and Albert Museum in London acquire two models of the world's first 3D-printed gun?
September 13, 2013 -- Updated 1009 GMT (1809 HKT)
It looks like a regular bike light, but one day Emily Brooke's Blaze light could save your life.
September 10, 2013 -- Updated 1001 GMT (1801 HKT)
After months of hype and speculation, the Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch arrived this week with a bang... followed by a whimper.
September 2, 2013 -- Updated 1616 GMT (0016 HKT)
ARMAR is the ultimate sous chef. He'll bring you ingredients from the fridge and after you've made lots of mess he'll load the dishwasher and clean the surfaces. He's just one of a growing army of robo-chefs that are shaping the future of our kitchens.
Your cooking partner is a robot, your fridge can talk, and your plate is your own personal dietician. This is the kitchen of the future
August 21, 2013 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
Sound on Intution: sensors attach to your hands,feet and heart to produce music that responds to movement
August 15, 2013 -- Updated 1027 GMT (1827 HKT)
Not only did Unger have to contend with the typical design challenges of aesthetics and manufacturability, she also needed to become an expert in the reproductive habits of flies.
In 2050, when nine billion people are living on Earth, will high-protein insects be a part of our staple diet?
August 13, 2013 -- Updated 1301 GMT (2101 HKT)
He's invented breathable food, flavor clouds and olfactory telephones. Now David Edwards is bringing edible food-packaging to the table.
August 13, 2013 -- Updated 1031 GMT (1831 HKT)
ASAP is a solar-powered life-saving machine that's cheaper, greener and more efficient than a traditional Jet Ski
August 5, 2013 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
Transparent dresses, vacuum shoes, shark-proof wetsuits and more. We imagine a day in the life of a wearable technology user in the year 2015.
July 29, 2013 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Europe spends $13 billion annually on fueling street lights. With a new system called 'Tvilight', streetlamps can sense the arrival of a person.
August 5, 2013 -- Updated 0919 GMT (1719 HKT)
The earthquake-proof table can combat a ton of falling debris and provides reliable protection for people taking shelter during an earthquake
ADVERTISEMENT