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These Streetlights Kill Mosquitoes, Charge Phones, And Send Disaster Warnings

Powered by wind and solar power, these lights represent the future of urban infrastructure—where the building blocks of the city are smart and helpful.

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If the streetlights on your block don’t do anything other than brighten dark corners, that will probably soon change. New lights in Copenhagen point out empty parking spaces; streetlights in Glasgow measure air pollution and noise; L.A.'s new lights boost Wi-Fi coverage. And now another new streetlight, designed for Southeast Asia, can kill mosquitoes, charge cell phones, and send out warnings in a flood.

At the top of the new Malaysian streetlight, a wind turbine and solar panels gather power, so it's possible for it to work completely off the grid in rural areas. The researchers who designed it are hoping that it can eventually replace all streetlights in the region.

"That is our ambition," says Wen Tong Chong, an associate professor at the University of Malaya who helped develop the streetlight. "For the areas with enough wind and solar, it is best to replace all conventional streetlights with this one."

A box on the lamppost attracts mosquitoes by trying to smell like a human: a UV light and titanium dioxide combine to make a little CO2, which is as irresistible to mosquitoes as human breath. Once the insects fly closer to investigate, a fan sucks them in and kills them. Having a network of the lights could help fight dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness that killed 200 people in the country last year.

In a flood—something that's also common in the area—the streetlight can measure the height of floodwater, and send reports and warnings via an antenna. Because all of the electronics are at the top of the pole, and the bottom is waterproof, it can keep working as the water rises. If other power sources go out, people in a neighborhood can walk to a streetlight to plug in their cell phone or rechargeable batteries.

Eight lights are already installed on campus in a pilot project, and now the researchers are ready to bring it to market.