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Artificial Intelligence Helps Build Smart Cities


Han Bao

December, 2017

Artificial Intelligence (AI), a term most people have only heard in movie franchises like Terminator, is becoming increasingly pervasive in our daily lives. From generating personal recommendations of our favorite shopping items and entertainment every time we open Amazon and Netflix, to optimizing traffic routes to our destinations in real time based on traffic patterns to help us get there faster via our smart phones, AI is making an impact in practically every aspect of our lives, and people are beginning to realize its power and potential. During the U.S. Congress’ first AI hearing entitled “The Dawn of Artificial Intelligence,” Senator Ted Cruz, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, acknowledged that Artificial Intelligence is improving the efficiency and productivity across industries in the United States. Many political and business leaders are looking to tap into the power of AI, and one of the largest areas for potential growth is city planning and infrastructure.

Rapid and relentless urbanization is becoming an international trend for many regions in both developing and developed countries. As the population increases exponentially in these areas, many facets of public services are unable to keep up with the demand of this ever-increasing population. With the help of AI, now we can build smart cities where citywide data will be analyzed to identify more quickly problem areas and inefficiencies. It will provide big data-based insights for improved decision-making that only AI algorithms can identify.

The key to building a smart city is data. With the increasing connectivity from smart phones and other electronic devices, Internet of Things (IoT) is providing many ways to capture data. City data from sensors such as traffic cameras, metro meters, weather stations, air quality monitors, power grids, etc. provide a large amount of data feeds that can all be taken into consideration to build a responsive public data network. By taking advantage of almost instantaneous data availability, machine learning and deep learning methods help extract value out of that data and help rapidly improve the efficacy of Artificial Intelligence, making it consistently smarter and faster. 

With the steady improvement in technology, these benefits are no longer just theories, but are being realized in many major cities today. According to studies, the lack of available parking space was a common complaint in many cities. Redwood, CA is one of them: despite the complaints that city officials receive, a survey of parking garages showed that they are only about 50% full on average. To solve this apparent discrepancy, city officials teamed up with a technology company and garages were outfitted with vehicle sensors to count precisely the number of vehicles currently in the garages and the number of available spots. AI-powered devices are also capable of measuring traffic patterns and providing analytical insights to understand capacity variation based on the time of day. 

Kansas City has also served as a great example of smart city. It initiated several interesting projects, including internet-enabled kiosks where users have access to connect with businesses and events around them and an Uber-like on-demand public transit system: these projects are all enabled through data analytics and machine learning that provide unique insights into the needs of the city. The projects in Redwood and Kansas City are just the beginning, but they have already demonstrated the value that AI can provide to improve cities’ existing infrastructure. 

As AI gains more visibility, more and more cities join in and begin experimenting and collaborating with the private sector to demonstrate how they can better serve their citizens. One of the common initiatives is the open data policy. This policy allows the sharing of city infrastructure data with AI companies that are capable of fully leveraging them to better identify the citizens’ needs and steadily improve city life. Moreover, these open data also serve as important parameters for city planners, architects, and designers to help them make better decisions on city planning and design, as well as on sustainability initiatives.

One of the best examples of introducing new smart infrastructures in the city is San Diego. It installed a connected street lamp network, which initially was a method to reduce the annual energy spending from the city budget by using more power-efficient LEDs. However, by introducing additional IoT sensors into these fixtures, other economic savings were realized, including real-time air quality monitoring, optimization of parking and traffic patterns, and even improved emergency services. In this example, having the foresight to build and install smart city-centric infrastructures have yielded surprising economic benefits for the city. I believe as more and more success stories emerge like San Diego’s, there will be an exponentially growing number of international businesses and city officials that begin to buy into the idea of building smart cities.

At the forefront of enabling a smart city is AGT International, a company that combines data management, integration, and advanced analytics. Introducing the concept of Connected City, AGT International leverages available data to provide actionable insights for city leaders that will be able to “create a safe, efficient urban environment that attracts residents, commerce and tourism.” Its projects range from the Middle East to Singapore, managing city safety, port optimization, and traffic incidents. More recently, they collaborated with Cisco to launch smart city plans for Hamburg in Germany. Their solutions and platforms are helping millions of people and city officials to improve city operations and public safety.

With the continuous development of AI and IoT technology, many cities are participating in the building of smart cities: Denver, Pittsburgh, and Portland all have their own plans to use data-based approaches to enhance urban life for their citizens. 2016 was a year of amazing ideas for the future smart city as people began to theorize potential application of AI in the public service sector. We are now in the last quarter of 2017, and many of these ideas have become reality around the world. With tireless efforts from both governmental agencies and private sector actors, we are beginning to see the differences that AI is making in our urban lives. As I look forward to 2018, I sincerely hope to see even more efforts from all parties and even more partnerships among city planners, technology developers, and entrepreneurs to offer unprecedented connectivity of sensors and devices, undertake more critical projects, and continue to improve the smart city experiences for everyone. I truly believe that Artificial Intelligence will significantly enhance the life of everybody through transformation of our cities, and with every willing participant joining the effort; we move one step closer to that goal.

HAN BAO is a New York-based entrepreneur. She is Founder and Managing Partner of Elephant Technology Development, Inc, a company that uses advanced Artificial Intelligence concepts to help its clients change their business towards unprecedented efficiencies and revolutionize entire work processes at an industrial level. In her previous position as a founding team member and Business Development Manager at BZM Innovative Technologies, Han reviewed many investment portfolios with advanced technologies, with an emphasis on city planning and urban development. She was also a liaison with the United Nations and presented indigenous rights issues for minority groups at United Nations Forums.

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