Empowering cities to become ‘smarter’: Axis reflects on Smart City Expo World Congress

Andrea Sorri

Over the recent years, smart cities have gained more and more traction. Only a few weeks ago, more than 21,000 people attended the Smart City Expo World Congress 2018 and represented over 700 cities. The rise of urbanization and how it is affecting cities and their citizens is drawing more stakeholders to have a vested interest within smart cities. Although the focus may have remained the same across the years—to create a liveable environment where people and businesses can thrive—the ways to achieve that goal is constantly evolving. Amongst various discussions during the event this year, Axis noticed a few overarching themes that were brought to life, such as mobility, public safety & security, and innovative forms of collaborations.

Discussing these topics were high-level representatives – from governmental bodies through to security solution-based businesses. A key priority was opting for ‘smart developments’ to help a city’s future growth and make it more appealing to both businesses and residents by being more efficient and liveable.

Making traffic flow

The ongoing urbanization leads to a larger population within cities. As more citizens migrate to a city, the time spent in traffic increases as well. Subsequently, the extensive level of traffic tends to create a negative impact in areas such as individual time, financial costs and environmental damage from emissions. And even if there is an overall ambition to encourage the use of more environmentally friendly means of transportation, there is also a great need to improve traffic flows.

This year’s winner of the Smart City Expo’s Mobility Award – Atlanta’s “North Avenue Smart Corridor” project, represents a good example of how this can be done. Already in 2015, the city of Atlanta had installed several Axis cameras to monitor parts of the current smart corridor site. As a part of the award-winning project, 84 of the cameras were equipped with Citilog image processing software, turning them into valuable traffic sensors. Today, the cameras give a live view of the traffic situation, and provide real-time traffic data and statistics which is used to optimize the traffic light timings at 26 intersections along the corridor. By enabling this kind of real-time adjustments, the city has managed to improve travel times and reduce waiting times at intersections.

Can a city be smart, if it isn’t safe?

Public safety and security is a key element of a city’s overall reputation. One can even argue whether a city can be perceived as smart, if its citizens don’t feel safe. The types of security challenges, just as the type of crimes, varies from city to city. Some suffer from organized crime, some are crippled by robberies whereas others may be tackling a high level of assaults or car thefts. Such issues often make civilians feel unsafe and, as a result, they may choose to avoid volatile neighbourhoods, or even avoid using public services such as recreational areas or the transit system. Hence, allowing the public to feel secure is a vital area of focus within smart cities.

Many cities have already installed security cameras in crime-exposed areas and connected them to an operations center to more efficiently react to, respond to and solve incidents. At the expo, we witnessed a significant increase in the level of connected devices and sensors to be integrated with such security systems.

For example, representatives of an Argentinian city shared how they are about to install alarm buttons along school routes, so that children quickly can connect to emergency services. When a button is pressed, cameras nearby allow operators to look at the source of the issue and decide on whether to deploy an officer immediately. Additional examples, briefly presented in the Smart City Expo video below, include solutions that automatically alert for drones, traffic incidents, crowd gatherings, gun shots or other specific sounds.

Smart city solution in action

The city of Atlanta was also discussed for its city-wide security initiative Operation Shield. By applying a smart city mindset – connecting devices, data, and stakeholders – the city’s police department found an affordable way to better protect its citizens. In short, they have connected more than 10,500 cameras from public and private entities to a command center, allowing them to better manage daily incidents and emergencies. Apart from adding extra eyes at prioritized locations in the city, the costs of installing, owning and maintaining the surveillance equipment are successfully shared between involved stakeholders.

Atlanta Operation Shield
Atlanta’s Operation Shield serves as a good example of how innovative collaboration across public and private entities can bring multiple values to a city and its citizens. Image from the conference session “How can we make our cities safer? The role of technology & partnerships”.

The future looks brighter and ‘smarter’

This year, there were great examples showcased of how connected video solutions have helped cities to improve their overall image. It is noteworthy that budget and allocation of resources do raise a concern for many city authorities. However, if governmental representatives strategically prioritize the best for their respective cities and rely on proven solutions, it is plausible to meet the needs of citizens in an affordable manner.

From the turnout of Smart City Expo World Congress 2018, we can expect most smart cities of the future to include public safety and mobility as two of focus areas in their quest to make their cities more livable.

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Atlanta’s Operation Shield