Trip the Light Fantastic
(Originally published in dBusiness Magazine, September/October 2010)
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From the Wembley Stadium District in London to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Ron Harwood is a leader in the creation of immersion experiences
By R.J. King
An international lighting designer, Ron Harwood often uses metro Detroit as a test lab for enhancing consumer encounters around the world, whether at luxury shopping malls, entertainment venues, public squares, or college campuses.
But his latest innovation may revolutionize the lighting industry.
"We're taking the simple light pole and making it a tour de force in sound, video, security, and energy," says Harwood, founder and president of Illuminating Concepts in Farmington Hills.
The effort, called Intellistreets, started a decade ago with the lighting commission for Greenfield Village in Dearborn. The first step involved fitting new light poles with integrated speakers, to enhance concerts and other activities at the historical attraction.
In time, more features were added - including wireless communications to boost security efforts, along with monitors for controlling a light's color and brightness.
Since then, Harwood and his more than 40 employees have developed additional Intellistreets offerings, including a Skype camera, digital banners (with LED screens), metered plugs for future electric vehicles, an interface device for monitoring public parking, and sensors that track heat, water, and explosives.
"We can raise the level of lighting as a pedestrian approaches one of our light poles, or if they're running from someone or something, it can alert security," Harwood says. "We can do facial recognition, an Amber Alert, crowd control, or direct traffic."
So far, the company has been selling Intellistreets as an à la carte package. Clients include London's Wembley Stadium District, Branson Landing in Missouri, and Heron City Can Drago in Barcelona.
Intellistreets is the latest innovation for Illuminating Concepts, which has designed hundreds of theatrical, entertainment, and retail lighting projects around the world since 1981. Harwood got his start as an electric contracting engineer in 1970, before switching to specialized lighting.
"I remember my early years, when I went to the House of Denmark and got a table I could eat on," he says. "When I flipped it, I had my drafting table." Since then, Harwood and his team have taken on lighting projects for Disney, The Nasdaq, Godiva, NBC, Warner Bros., and the emerging City Center in Las Vegas.
In addition to designing engaging and safe environments, Harwood says a sophisticated lighting program can boost the bottom line. "For us, creating a memorable lighting environment goes hand in hand with energy conservation. Clients today, no matter what the field, want to see a payback."