Wednesday, 28th October 2020

Is thermal the steppingstone for smarter cities?

By Michael Deruytter, Director of Product, Intelligent Traffic Systems, FLIR Systems.

The idea of a ‘smart city’ is not a new one. The term has been used widely over the past ten years, however, progress towards harnessing its true potential is only just being realised. What a smart city is, and the technology used to create it is constantly changing and adapting to fulfil different needs.

Today, transport and energy are expected to be the main drivers of smart city spending over the coming decade. According to IDC’s report on Smart Cities, nearly $124 billion is expected to be spent this year, with intelligent transport solutions representing about 14% of this spend, and 18% is earmarked for public safety initiatives.

With such large investments, visions of a smart city future are becoming a reality and developments in local towns as well as larger cities across Europe are showing that the world is ready to embrace technologies focused on improving public safety. However technological innovations are well-surpassing city infrastructure making it essential to ask the question – how can we utilize these technologies to make the infrastructure we already have ‘smarter’?

Transport Systems Re-Imagined

Being able to inform travelers of hazards, delays and alternate routes is paramount to keeping cities moving. Measuring traffic is a is a critical aspect of this as it allows for real-time traffic control. It is essential for ITS systems to detect and measure the traffic in a reliable way across any spectrum of conditions. Thermal imaging ties into these needs, through the detection of heat emissions – vision is extended and allows for four-times greater detection than that offered by traditional cameras.

Darmstadt, Germany is a city taking advantage of this technology. Located in the German Rhine-Main Area, the city of Darmstadt does not escape the issues of traffic congestion. City authorities have installed thermal video detectors to ensure smoother traffic flows of both cars and trams, while also using video detection management software FLUX – enabling the visualisation of traffic streams.

The extended and clarified vision provided by thermal allows traffic controllers to differentiate between cars, trams and pedestrians, as well as vulnerable road users such as cyclists. This in turn allows for greater insight into foreseeing delays and hazards which may occur across roads and highways. The data gathered from this technology further allows for seamless interaction between city authorities and first responders, providing efficient and collaboration.

Thermal technology has also been utilised by the city to guarantee the safety of schoolchildren and passers-by, as the city has two schools positioned in a relatively dangerous by-section of traffic. The technology detects large groups of people and adapts to the green phase of the traffic light systems accordingly, so pedestrians can cross safely in a well-adjusted time. A major advantage of using video detection is that no extensive civil engineering is required, as city technicians can install the camera and set it up without the cost of commissioning outside companies.

Connectivity Across Cities

Cloud-technology enables a unified data collection for AI analysis, ensuring inter-device connectivity across different intersections in a city. The scalability and dynamic offering of cloud platforms allow for tailored solutions to seamlessly address specific problems across city-level operations, management platforms and associated interfaces. Smart thermal is a great enabler of this, providing the technology to monitor and identify traffic flow, detect incidents in real-time and inform travelers of potential delays.

By syncing to a central node of communication, the control centre allows for the retrieval of information from a unified access point. This works by using global displays and AI driven-data processing – providing faster and more cohesive responses across the city. As well as increasing first responder’s ability to react, the technology eases the flow and safety of traffic for the everyday commuter.

Locating and Reacting to Incidents in Real-Time

Accidents in the UK occur across the country every day and we rely on the speed and assurance of essential services to help when these happen. In order to react in real-time, they need smarter tools to manage these threats. Traditional video surveillance operations are typically used in this instance and are useful for investigations but lack the tools and coverage that could change the outcome of an occurring event.

We have seen this in the UK, where authorities in Wales have utilised FLIR’s thermal imaging sensors on a notoriously dangerous tunnel. With 80,000 vehicles passing through on peak days, incident detection technology is important for the safety of the tunnel/road users. The combination of smart visual and thermal cameras notifies tunnel operators of potential hazards or incidents occurring within the tunnel helping decrease dangerous incidents.

It is not only the immediate benefit we can see from safety features. As aforementioned, the vast amount of data collected can then be analysed and later used by city authorities to make these roads safer. For example, the use of variable speed limits has enabled urban planners to make smarter, safer transport decisions, slowing traffic down when an accident has occurred.

Authorities are given greater power to adapt their safety measures to meet their own city’s needs. From targeting slow commutes and dangerous crossings in Darmstadt to reducing collisions in a busy tunnel in Wales - recognizing and building intelligent solutions to unique issues has never been more of a reality. Cities becoming “smart” is being realised as less of a challenge due to the possibility of utilising existing infrastructure to meet these goals. Making it more possible to keep citizens moving and enabling authorities to prioritise the safety of communities in their vision of a future smart city.

Supply chain processes present a challenge to almost any business. For companies going through merge...
How businesses can show empathy during a crisis. By Daniel Bailey, VP EMEA at Zendesk.
By Marcus Harvey, Director of B2B EMEA, Targus.
By Jelle Wijndelts, Director of Business Consulting, EMEA, Snow Software.
By Johan Pellicaan, Vice President & Managing Director at Scale Computing.
By Don Schuerman, chief technology officer at Pegasystems.
Retail was an industry under pressure before Covid-19 arrived. Consumer shopping had undergone a hug...