Three more things in my house require a remote control now, and one of them is the streetlight in front of my house. Ever since I heard about a hacked streetlight at the Guerrilla Drive in for Back to the Future in 2009, I have been turning off the streetlight on Darien Street by carefully aiming a laser dot at the light sensor on top of the streetlight. The light sensors on most streetlights face west to catch the last photons from the fading sunset before illuminating for the night—and this one faces right into the third floor of my house. It is very important to me to be able to choose to sit in the cozy dark, save my city some money, and not contribute to light pollution for a minute.
Just recently I revamped the process with a new, permanent laser and remote control system. Here it is in action:
I’ll show you how …

Laser assembly

Laser assembly

First, I pawed through Hive76′s supply of laser diodes. On my third pick, I found a working diode from a laser pointer that was pretty bright at 5V and 20mA. Then I 3D printed a holder for the diode, soldered on a power supply, and attached it to an alignment bracket.

I then added this Wireless Remote Control with 3 outlets to control the power supply.

Power relay

Power relay

Now with the touch of a button, I can make the street dark and enjoy sitting out on the sidewalk. I need it dark because some asshole from Asplundh came over here, climbed my tree, butchered it, and cursed at my dear old neighbor. I am missing half of a tree, so we need dark these days on Darien. It feels like I’m taking back a little bit of control bacuse I can’t get my tree back.

This is a low impact, temporary, non-destructive project. We are merely using the red light of the laser to trick the light sensor into thinking it’s daytime. It takes almost 2 minutes for a built in buffer on the sensor to fill before the light is extinguished. When the laser is removed, the light reignites in 30 seconds and is at full brightness again in under a minute. I used the other two remote relays on the fans in our windows. This is as far as I’ll get into home automation for a while.

Funny epilogue: when I first posted about this hack on Vine, I used the work “hacked” in my description, and then the post was deleted. Huh. Funny that. Here’s the video that was removed:

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5 Responses to “Civic infrastructure hacking: laser-controlled streetlight.”

  1. Daniel Provenzano says:

    Way cool man. Could you incorporate a controller to cycle the laser on- say every 29 seconds- so that the streetlight continuously thinks it’s daylight?

  2. […] bit of mischief was a small price for [Chris] to pay for a reprieve from light pollution with this remote control laser hack. The streetlight in front of his house has a sensor that faces westward, and flips the lamp on once […]

  3. Brilliant!
    I hope that I can apply the same idea with the light at my complex since the light is not design to illuminate the parking lot but everything which is annoying when going to sleep.
    Perhaps I would do the same but including a timer so I can go to sleep and after two hours let the light to be on for security purposes.

  4. That one dude says:

    I feel sorry for the electrician that’s called for the light not working… “But there’s nothing wrong!” Very awesome hack. Those lights can be annoying.

  5. Ronald Pottol says:

    You might want to read “The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light”, it’s a very good read on just how bad overlighting our night is. Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/End-Night-Searching-Artificial-ebook/dp/B00A2CSDQY/

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