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May 8, 2019

Using Smart City Technology to Build Safer Cities

Recently, here at CIMCON, we've been thinking a lot about what smart city technology can mean for safety in the city. We work with cities all over the world and are often asked how officials can use technology efficiently and ethically to improve safety operations in their municipality. There's no one size fits all solution, but there are plenty of ways to mix and match technologies to build a solution that fits a city’s unique needs. In this post, we'll dig into smart city technology for security applications.


What are smart city applications?

There are countless technology applications to help cities operate more efficiently, many of those applications fit under the 'safe city' umbrella. Already, we can help cities map out the frequency of gunshots, identify suspicious packages, and alert officials or rising water and potential flooding. But these applications start to be really effective when a city can mix, match and pair them to derive impactful outcomes from the data the sensors collect. For example, when we deploy gunshot detector, camera and GPS enabled NearSky smart city hub, we can use data from each of these devices to direct the others to act. What does that mean? Here’s an example:

A city deploys a camera and a microphone, both integrated with a NearSky device on a streetlight, in an area with historic gunshot activity. A gun is fired, the sound signature of the shot is recognized by the microphone and its on-board analytics. Once the gunshot is detected, NearSky can do any number of things with that data like send an alert to local officials with time and location of the event. It might also trigger the camera to start recording, capturing events immediately after the shot was fired.

Does that mean that in smart cities, there are cameras everywhere, surveilling my every move?

Short Answer, no. In smart cities, no one is sitting behind a monitor watching every frame from every camera. That would be a lot of work and a lot of liability. Instead, thanks to edge computing, we've trained our cameras to notice anomalies or potentially dangerous situations like suspicious objects being left behind or wrong way drivers without having to stream video back to a central management system (If you're new to the topic, be sure to check out our post on edge computing for a primer). Instead, the camera streams footage to a local processor, NearSky 360, which runs some analytics and alerts officials only if one of the pre-programmed anomalies has occurred. Security personnel get a notification when an event occurs and can act accordingly. If needed, officials can pull the relevant video footage from the event, if not, its simply written over on the tiny SD card that lives in the edge device. So we can all relax, no one is watching you, unless you’re driving down the road in the wrong direction, then maybe they are.

Of course, video surveillance isn't the only way smart city applications can be deployed to make cities safer. The beauty of the smart city field is that new applications are always emerging and each is as unique as the cities its meant to serve. To prove the point, I'll refer you to a small town in Manitoba that has deployed an application integrating cameras with radar technology to track polar bears and warn the community if a bear is headed their way. When the system detects a bear, automated emails alerts are sent to community members in order to reduce unwanted interactions between residents and hungry bears.

Every city has its own security challenges and needs a bespoke set of solutions to address them. That’s why we built NearSky. We know that we'll never understand all the unique issues that cities face; however, we can provide cities with a tool kit to build solutions to their problem using technology and data. The NearSky Platform allows cities to easily design and deploy their own security solutions for less cost and less effort. Naturally, we have some suggestions on security applications and some out-of-the-box capabilities like gunshot detection, aggression detection, and wrong way driver detection (see our full list on our Smart City Roadmap). But we know that the cities are the real architects. Think of our NearSky Platform like a Lego Kit, it comes with the pieces and some ideas on what to build, but you might want to build your own thing, and that’s totally fine with us!

So are smart cities safer cities?

In my opinion, yes. When a city deploys more processing power at the edge, they can collect more data to better understand the way their city works, all without compromising the privacy of their residents and visitors. This data can be used to deploy security personnel more efficiently or to build models to predict hazardous events like floods or car accidents; the possibilities are endless. To be clear, a smart city is no utopia, there are some caveats. Governments must be ethical and transparent about the data they collect and the way they use that data for smart city apps to be truly beneficial. But that’s a weighted and very important topic which deserves a post all to itself, stay tuned.

To wrap up, when used appropriately, smart city applications are a great tool to drive efficiency all areas of city operations, including public safety. These efficiencies could ultimately save time, infrastructure, and maybe even a life.

Written by: Liz Glivinski
Date: May 8, 2019

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