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Totem, a new smart utility system for tomorrow’s smart cities

Distributed energy for a world of automated cars and electric vehicles

If the predictions are correct, our cities will soon be transformed with new technological and transportation advancements, from smart sensors to automated vehicles. But while the technology behind cars, computers, and buildings continue to advance, the infrastructure that powers and connects everything tends to stand still.

Brian Lakamp, the CEO and founder of Totem, a Bedford, New York-based company that just unveiled a new smart utility system, believes it’s well past time for cities to push the power grid forward. He sees his company’s product—a solar-powered, autonomous, utility pole that resembles a palm tree—as a new take on how cities can provide clean, sustainable energy, as well as a re-evaluation of the role of urban infrastructure.

“People need to engage with infrastructure,” he says. “There isn’t commitment to real design, just a lot of vanilla-colored boxes. There’s a lot that needs to be done to push infrastructure forward.”

Lakamp’s envisions these large devices, which measure either 18 or 30 feet tall, as power generators and platforms. Each Totem, powered by a five-kilowatt solar array, offers battery storage, EV charging, and lighting, serving as a new solar-powered streetlamp for the smart city.

Totem is pitching cities, corporations, and campuses on the value of installing these devices to create a decentralized energy grid and communications platform; beyond offering solar powered lighting, these devices double as charging stations, offer Wi-Fi and 4G service, and can even feed power back into the grid in case of emergencies. In a coming age of electric-powered automated vehicles, a grid of Totems can underpin a more sustainable transportation system. It’s Elon Musk’s vision for home power generation writ large.

Traditionally, energy infrastructure in urban areas, such as transformers and power lines, have been utilitarian by design and hidden. Lakamp believes with with smart, modern design, cities can bring infrastructure “out of the shadows” and unlock new promises and functions, as New York attempted to do with the Link NYC smart kiosks.

The Totem concept also offers additional power generation at a time when cities are nowhere near peak electricity. Computers, electric cars, and an ever-growing list of devices suggest municipalities will benefit from additional solar capacity.

Totem, which just released their initial designs, hasn’t announced any partnerships or purchases (or a final price), but Lakamp says they’re currently in talks with numerous cities and corporations to find the first sites for delivery and installation, expected begin next summer.

“I always say we’re at a typewriter moment in the world of energy,” he says. “We could make a slight improvement on the existing technology, but we’re ready for, and poised for, a great leap. We don’t need a better spacebar. It’s time to create a computer.”