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Wellington City: AI for Urban Efficiency

Image credits: rnz.co.nz
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The Wellington City Council is launching an extensive traffic monitoring network to comprehensively assess and collect data on various modes of transportation within the city. This innovative system harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to precisely monitor and analyse the dynamic flow of traffic, including vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians. The primary objective is to gain invaluable insights into how the city’s roads and pathways are utilised.

By deploying these state-of-the-art sensors, the council plans to gather an array of data, including counts of road users such as cars, trucks, bicycles, scooters, buses, and pedestrians. Moreover, the sensors will track travel paths and measure travel speeds, providing a comprehensive picture of urban mobility trends.

One of the key advantages of this initiative is the continuous, round-the-clock monitoring capability, which will offer real-time data to city officials. It will empower the council to make more precise assessments regarding how residents and visitors navigate the city and utilise its extensive network of cycleways. Additionally, it will enable the council to monitor the effects of any changes made to the city’s transportation infrastructure in real-time.

Peter Mildon, the COO of the sensor company, said that this technology can monitor the movement patterns of various categories of road users, allowing for a comprehensive evaluation of the infrastructure’s effectiveness or lack thereof.

“The sensors’ continuous monitoring would provide the council with insights into how factors like seasonal changes or significant events influenced the utilisation of the city’s infrastructure,” he explained.

Julia McMaster, leader of the council’s digital innovation team, explained that this capability allowed them to assess and adapt traffic management in real-time, eliminating the need to rely solely on post-complaint evaluations.

The council’s former approach heavily relied on labour-intensive manual data collection methods. Julia McMaster underscored that the financing for implementing these cutting-edge sensors was obtained by reallocating funds from existing budgets, obviating the necessity for supplementary financial resources.

Paul Barker, the council’s manager of street transformation, highlighted the city of Wellington’s longstanding commitment to promoting walking and cycling as sustainable modes of transportation. The city has already made substantial strides in this direction.

“The introduction of these advanced sensors is poised to not only consolidate but also elevate their continuous endeavours in fostering a more pedestrian and cyclist-friendly urban environment,” he asserted.

As Mildon emphasised, this system should be distinct from traditional CCTV surveillance. Instead, it generates anonymous data concerning pedestrian and vehicular traffic without intrusive or invasive surveillance intentions. It’s primarily concerned with gathering statistics on pedestrian foot traffic compared to vehicular traffic on city streets.

Mildon clarified that the sensors have a camera and a graphics processing unit (GPU) processor. However, it’s important to note that all data processing occurs within the device, ensuring that video feeds remain confined to the device, a crucial aspect in safeguarding data privacy and security. Importantly, no functionalities for facial recognition or license plate recognition are incorporated into these sensors.

Brad Singh, the council’s transport and infrastructure manager outlined that the technology’s primary purpose would be to gain insights into the effects of infrastructure modifications throughout the city. Various council departments will utilise the collected data, including those responsible for transport and infrastructure, bike network planning, community services, waterfront management, behaviour change initiatives, and the Let’s Get Wellington Moving programme.

“High-quality data and a thorough comprehension of that data significantly enhance our planning capabilities. Moreover, it enables us to assess the effectiveness of the implemented changes and whether they yield the intended outcomes,” Singh acknowledged.

Furthermore, this project has undergone a comprehensive privacy impact assessment. It has been subject to review by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, ensuring that it adheres to the highest standards of data privacy and protection.

McMaster said that this sensor will be rolled out in September-October. Additional units will be deployed before the annual March count to ensure data consistency. By incorporating these tools into their existing initiatives, Wellington demonstrates its dedication to staying at the forefront of urban planning and transportation development.

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