Mass Innovations, from The Beacon, Summer 2015

A collaboration between Somerville and a company that specializes in wireless solar technology is providing a new form of lighting for the city’s biking and walking path.

Rather than having the path’s streetlights come on at a set time, technology introduced by the Needham company SolarOne relies on the motion of pedestrians and cyclists to trigger the extent of light that is required for illumination and safety.

“Instead of just one light turning on at a time, a bank of lights can turn on in front of them,” based on the system’s network of sensors, said Moneer Azzam, the company’s president. “If there is a bike rider that is moving faster, it is more important that a longer stretch of bike path is illuminated.”

“In the past, a light was an island unto itself,” he added. “Now the lights can talk to each other.”

Azzam highlighted the role of an intern in the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s Living Lab, who has worked closely with Somerville staff and SolarOne.

“He’s the one who gets the reams of data, and studies it and provides the reports,”Azzam said.

Azzam cited “optimization” – a systematic process that relies on specific steps governed by algorithms – as a key element of the technology.

“We can put all their data together,” he said. “That’s where the real innovation is.”

While the community path is currently less than a mile in length, it leads to the 10-mile Minuteman Bikeway, which passes through Cambridge, Arlington and Lexington, before ending in Bedford. Somerville also has been working on a plan to extend the community path into Boston. A new stretch of the path is expected to open soon.

Azzam said his company was attracted to Somerville by the presence of the Greentown Labs incubator, which originated in Boston’s Innovation District in 2011 but now occupies a larger space in Somerville, with roughly 33,000 square feet.

Oliver Sellers-Garcia, director of Somerville’s sustainability and environment program, said Greentown Labs is the largest green-technology incubator in the nation.

“One of the things that distinguishes Greentown Labs is that they have companies in the clean-energy sector, but they also have a really strong manufacturing component to them,” Sellers-Garcia said. “Greentown has been able to generate young companies in Somerville, and demonstrate the really cool and economically progressive things that can come out of reusing some of the former industrial properties in the city.”

For more information, contact Oliver Sellers-Garcia at (617) 625-6600, ext. 2106.

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