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How AI and Big Data are Being Deployed to Improve Urban Life
5 Ways AI and Big Data Are Improving Urban Life
As the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected cities worldwide, municipalities are increasing their efforts to use artificial intelligence (AI) and big data to improve urban life. In this article, we explore five areas where new technologies are making an impact.
Smart Cities Still In The Early Days
The idea of “smart cities” has been around for decades, but most cities are still only scratching the surface of what’s possible. Many are just now creating the infrastructure needed to really reap the full rewards of the concept and have a long way to go before the foundations are in place.
In fact, as little as 35% of the European cities studied by the Erasmus Centre for Data Analytics at the Erasmus University Rotterdam had an operational “urban data platform” in place. Such a platform, a solution for gathering, organizing, and combining data from multiple sources, is fundamental for a city to deploy AI and harness the full potential of big data.
But in the wake of the pandemic, many cities have reinforced their efforts, as the need for efficient data capture and management has increased. It has become apparent that the more digitized cities of the world had a significant advantage when fighting the virus. An example of this is South Korea, where the well-established Data Hub meant the town was well prepared to succeed with contact tracing, thus avoiding a full lockdown.
Let’s have a look at five different ways that cities around the world today are using AI and big data to improve urban life:
- To Get A Real-time View Of The City
- To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19
- To Fight Climate Change
- To Improve Traffic and Safety
- To Speed Up Progress Through Collaboration
To Get A Real-time View Of The City
As municipalities are venturing into AI, big data, and the IoT (Internet of Things), many aim to create a real-time overview of what’s happening in the city. This is the case, for example, in Amsterdam, where the city hopes to use big data and AI to make timely interventions where needed and to spur the development of intelligent services for the citizens.
“We are using AI as the eyes of the city,” Maarten Sukel, AI lead at the City of Amsterdam, shared in the Science|Business webinar, How will real-time data reshape our cities?
Amsterdam is deploying AI and big data in many ways. One important initiative is to collect real-time data from the city using cameras. To do this, they mount smartphones on waste collection vehicles and regular citizens’ bicycles. They are then used to capture and stream images of what is happening on the streets of Amsterdam. This provides instant information that allows the municipality to detect, assess, and act on dangerous situations quickly.
“We can see what cars are driving where and at what speed. We can see if people are keeping a distance or if people are wearing their face masks, and we can act on that and ask them to do it differently,” says Sukel as he goes through the various use cases for the data.
To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19
The Covid-19 pandemic has put healthcare and disease control in the spotlight worldwide, and most cities are now striving to use AI technology in virus prevention. AI and big data hold massive potential for prevention work, as municipalities all over the world are struggling to create a safe environment for their populations. Monitoring and ensuring socially distanced walking paths and decreasing dependence on public transport requires a constant flow of information and the means to analyze that information—and act on it.
As commuters change the ways and time of day they go to work, as buses reduce their capacity, and as people opt for bikes instead of public transit, cities need to adapt quickly. To manage these changes, technology is vital. An example of this evolution during the pandemic is the Uber boat in London. This service can now be booked through an app, allowing the Londoners to travel via both river and road using shared vehicles. This requires the integration of several technologies, including IoT, cloud, sensors, and AI. The result is both a more seamless and more environmentally sustainable journey that also helps people maintain social distancing.
To Fight Climate Change
Alongside the pandemic, climate change remains one of the most urgent challenges that cities need strategies for. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else, the use of big data and AI will play a crucial part.
The city of Seoul is at the forefront of this development, leading ‘smart green mobility’ technologies, such as driverless cars and delivering goods with robots’ help. Rotterdam is another city where the combination of big data and AI has helped provide citizens with electric bicycles and scooters as an alternate travel method, with applications to help them find the quickest way to get where they’re going. These are just a few examples of what can be achieved when technology is used in a clever way to reduce emissions.
To Improve Traffic and Safety
Another critical urban use case for AI and big data is to improve traffic in terms of safety, efficiency, and sustainability.
Montreal is mounting sensors on public vehicles like buses, fire engines, and snowplows. The data collected allows the municipality to figure out how to streamline routes and use the city’s infrastructure most safely and efficiently. This has led to roads being cleared faster, travel times being reduced, and accidents being prevented.
Deploying AI and big data might mean the end of “rush hour” as sensors help control traffic flow and provide the data needed to advise drivers and cyclists in real-time when and where to go. A ‘smart junction‘ does all of this and will become even more useful when aided by the new 5G network with even faster processing and higher performance.
To Speed Up Progress Through Collaboration
One of the greatest potentials in big data and AI lies in how it allows different disciplines to attack the same challenges from different angles and make information accessible for analysis. This effectively speeds up scientific progress and will enable policymakers, scientists, and engineers to address the problems of urban living. As different sectors find ways to work together, with a shared pool of data as their point of departure, the prospect for quick, positive action is enhanced. For example, these technologies have already led to the adoption of tools in the construction sector that can integrate low power and water consumption, allow for green spaces such as green walls and roofs, and smart systems for waste management. This type of integrated progress relies heavily on access to big data and the ability to analyze it.
Smart Cities Are the Future
For a smart city to be fully functional, a vast range of technologies must work in tandem to stay interconnected and communicate problems and solutions. Three key components are at the center of this evolution: additional and improved data about roads, bike lanes, and sidewalks, real-time systems for controlling the existing infrastructure, and infrastructure integration with vehicle and fleet technology. Collecting big data, and using AI to process and analyze it, will enable cities to become safer, more efficient, and more environmentally sustainable.