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Social Innovation

Clear way ahead: How digital technology is keeping us safe and secure in public places

How digital technology is using AI and big data to make our growing cities secure places to thrive

As cities get bigger, innovations in data technology are helping to keep them moving, and to keep the people in them, safe

More and more of us are living in cities. In fact, the United Nations predicts that urban populations will almost double in size by 2045 , from 3.6 billion today to 6 billion. Making sure towns and cities remain places where people can flourish – and stay safe – will be one of the major technological challenges of the new decade.

Enter Hitachi Smart Spaces solutions. We already capture enormous amounts of data from streets and buildings, cars and smartphones – cameras provide a real-time view of what’s happening in a place, and analogue machines and buildings have now joined the Internet of Things (IoT) to collect data about how they’re being used, as they’re being used.

Hitachi’s Smart Spaces technology gathers all this information together to analyse it and use it to make places work more efficiently and effectively for people – you enter an empty room and a sensor notes your presence and turns up the thermostat; an app on your phone directs you to the best place on the platform to find a seat on a train about to arrive , or where to find an open parking space; city police are able to identify and discern the owner of lost luggage.

It’s thanks to advances in artificial intelligence (AI) that we’re able to use all these different and disparate pieces of data effectively. As an example, a person can only monitor perhaps up to six CCTV video screens at one time, but AI can keep track of an entire city, and also scan hours of footage in seconds to identify people, objects or vehicles as they appear in multiple locations. It’s a way of keeping people safe without spying on them or invading their privacy – by identifying features such as height and clothing, but not faces, the AI used within Smart Spaces technology can track someone who’s left their bag on a bus, for example, perhaps even before they realise themselves that they’ve lost it.

Digital solutions can help cities to move from being reactive – responding to incidents as they occur – to being predictive. Using AI to analyse big data from multiple sources, including historical information, makes for a system that can automatically detect if something’s out of the ordinary. It means people can respond swiftly and knowledgeably to incidents of crime, terrorism, interpersonal violence, and destruction or theft of property, as well as predicting and helping to prevent problems before they arise.

Belfast City Council ran a series of pilot projects this summer under the banner Amazing Spaces, Smart Places , using data to help reduce incidents of vandalism and antisocial behaviour in Belfast City Cemetery. From June 20 to 27, iSensing Ltd used sensors in the cemetery to detect mobile devices when they tried to connect to WiFi, counting them as visitors to the area. Meanwhile SparroWatch used AI and computer vision to determine what was happening in the cemetery using the council’s existing mobile CCTV cameras, giving real-time notifications which allowed people to decide whether human interventions were necessary. Using the data this way allowed the council to work efficiently to keep the cemetery safe, and to improve the experience of people visiting it during the day.

It’s not just public services who can make use of smart space technology. Ferry has long been the fastest and easiest way in New York City to get to and from Manhattan and NY Waterway is America’s largest privately owned commuter ferry company, running 35 vessels along the 100-mile corridor of water that connects New York Harbor with the Hudson and East Rivers. Harsh seasonal weather conditions provide the company with their most regular challenge – with over 8 million passengers a year, safety is a top priority for them as a business.

A few years ago they had installed cameras at their terminals and on all their boats, as well as an automatic identification system (AIS) to provide data in case of an incident, but these were temperamental when splashed with water spray and when the temperature dropped, and AIS was dependent on the vessels having internet connectivity on the water – something that wasn’t always possible.

Using Hitachi Vantara, they replaced and integrated their cameras and wireless antennas into one central system, with a single dashboard for all the data so they have a complete, real-time operational picture. ‘We’ve helped develop a very holistic environment for public safety and preparedness,’ explains Anil Sookoo, principal of A.A.S Technologies, a voice, data and security integrator brought in to help the company. They decided to use Hitachi Vantara for its cloud-based and dashboard-controlled integration of cameras, AIS, and other systems.

‘NY Waterway can more quickly and accurately respond to an event that might be occurring on the water or in a terminal,’ he continues. ‘Whenever needed, cameras can be repositioned remotely, and customised alerts can be sent to designated personnel. It’s all possible from any network device, at any time or place, and can be shared simultaneously as the situation demands.’

As well as keeping their customers safe, the system allows them to optimise the way they run their operations as well as enhance the experience of their customers, with up-to-the minute route and timetable information.

Innovation is reshaping the world around us. This technology will transform cities as they grow, into better, safer, spaces where people and businesses can prosper.