Smart Cities: NEC’s perspective

Enterprise IT News speaks to Chong Kai Wooi, Managing Director of NEC Corporation of Malaysia, about smart cities and some of the prevailing perceptions surrounding a few implementations around the world today.

EITN: Why are smart cities efficient in the long run?

Chong: Cities tend to follow a natural progression in their development. As economic and social pressures mature in a city, so too does the need to reinvent the city to maintain a momentum in growth and affluence and preserve such a sustainable atmosphere. Smart Cities are matured Cities that will integrate advanced ICT Technology with the use of Artificial Intelligence to take advantage of IOT and Big Data Analytics to allow government and city officials to gain a clear understanding on how best to serve the populations.

The reinvented SMART Cities, sometimes dubbed as Cities 4.0 in an analogy with Industry 4.0 where automation, A.I. and analytics are used to describe its impact in manufacturing; will gain the ability to react quickly with vital solutions to the changing conditions and pressures of their urban sociality.

Smart cities will be efficient in the long run to the citizens because it increases the efficiency and coordination of daily city operations and services, growth in economics by introduction of new economic models in various industry verticals and environmental sustainability through moderation, automation, optimization and reduces of wastages of various resources.

City officials need to invest into smart city initiatives, because these pave the way for better environment for living and working, a critical requirement to attract more people, businesses and investments to a city. This will eventually result in a higher standard of living, higher tax income for the relevant parties, more employment opportunities and local economic development, enabling a city to stay competitive and sustainable.

When you look at cities growing in terms of population, there are also risks to public safety and increase in crime incidences. Smart City applications can help authorities manage the occurrence of these incidences more effectively with sensors, A.I. in surveillance that looks at loitering (occurs mostly before crimes like robberies or snatch thefts) and abandoned objects which sends alerts when objects like bags are left abandoned by an individual. The aim for this is expanding from post crime detection to prevention of crime.

With the enablement of a digital identity for populations, various applications and agencies from healthcare, banking, law authorities can tap into it to have a seamless digital.

EITN: I can understand how multiple sensors can collect data to derive insights and drive decisions. But how does AI come in? It would require a lot of data. And do you mean machine learning/deep learning kind of artificial intelligence? Because that would require much more data. Can we have top 3 examples of a smart city based on AI, that is currently live or in the works right now?

Chong: NEC the WISE is a portfolio of A.I. technologies developed by NEC for enriching human intellect and creativity. This portfolio represents our strong determination to harness the wisdom of humans and A.I. working together to resolve the increasingly complex and intertwined issues society is facing today. Within NEC the WISE, there are multiple suite of technologies which works seamlessly on the scene and behind the scenes to broaden the possibilities of every aspect of society from public safety to marketing and manufacturing. NEC the WISE incorporates multiple methods from machine learning to deep learning to NEC’s Heterogeneous Mixture Learning. Simply put it, NEC the WISE is a technology that computerize human intellectual activities and contribute to the realization of more advanced Visualization, Analysis, Prediction and Prescription.

Example 1: Advanced city surveillance coupled with face recognition capabilities
For nearly 30 years, NEC has been developing AI including face recognition technology by defining it as one of the key technologies to help achieve a safer and more secure society. The technology has now been implemented in more than 100 systems in 40 countries worldwide. In Malaysia, it is adopted into enterprise for access control. Other possible use cases can be for law enforcement and border control, and eKYC.

As part of this effort, NEC has successfully implemented advanced CCTV surveillance systems coupled with face recognition capabilities with cities around the world, including but not limited to Surat city in India, Tigre city in Argentina, and some major cities in Georgia.

Example 2: Smart transportation utilising big data analytics
NEC’s Smart Transportation solutions have been deployed in many countries globally. Closer to here, we have countries like Hong Kong, India, Singapore and of course Malaysia.

For example, NEC has been collaborating with a Singapore bus operator to accurately identify high-risk drivers who likely to cause accidents in the near future by analysing the collected data from the fleet management, telematics system within the buses, and so on with NEC’s Heterogeneous Mixture Learning technology. Thus, with such information, the bus company can more accurately pinpoint area of improvement in ensuring optimal performance of the crew.

Example 3:
Crowd control: Detecting crowding levels, behaviour patterns, and potentially dangerous situations
NEC has provided disaster control system with crowd behavior analysis Technology for Toshima Ward in Tokyo. NEC’s system is being used to detect abnormalities in real-time based on images of major railway stations and roadways captured with security cameras throughout the ward. In the event of any abnormality, the system automatically gives an alert in order to quickly identify where an unexpected event is occurring.

EITN: Surveillance and video analytics – do they really contribute to a smart city or a safe city? Why do you say this?

Chong: Video Analytics is useful as you have thousands of camera images to digest, this is impossible for the human eye to do so. Video Analytics can capture human behaviours, crowd behaviours, vehicular movements, objects, intrusion etc.

Surveillance solutions that incorporates face recognition serves the crime deterrent purpose by identifying a person of interest.

For Surat city, there was a major impact on certain types of crime, like snatch theft, according to Dr K L N Rao, Joint Commissioner of Police of Surat. After implementation of safe city project in collaboration with NEC, the crime rate has been reduced by 27 per cent.

For Tigre, with advanced features such as the utilization of IoT, the system has already produced major results, such as reducing the stolen vehicle rate in Tigre by about 40 percent.

EITN: What are the top risks to be aware of when deploying smart city projects?

Chong: There are some risks in the deployment of smart cities projects for example in construction and operational industry.

In terms of construction, many IT projects involve the integration of several existing IT systems operated by different organizations and most of those systems will not have been designed to support integration. Due to the reason of technology evolves rapidly, many projects use technologies that are new to the teams delivering them.
Operational hiccups will occur in new deployments that monitor and control physical systems such as cars, trains and traffic lights can cause process disruptions at the start of the implementation.

The benefits of smart city such as road-use charging and smart metering cannot be calculated deterministically in advance because they depend on citizens changing their behavior – deciding to ride a bus rather than to drive a car; or deciding to use dishwashers and washing machines overnight rather than during the day.

A smart city project involvement is also for the long haul be it for the company that provides the technology and the sectors that implement the applications so the question of commitment and continuous investment must be considered prior to implementation.

There is also the need for scalable architecture that is designed well to prevent cyber-attacks in a smart and connected smart city. The Cyber hacking risks escalates as more money is transacted online in a smart city.

It is also essential to have a layered architecture based on open standards that will allow for greater scalability for growth of data traffic and complexity.

EITN: Public and private partnerships for projects that are city-scale and involve a whole city, goes without saying. But how closely integrated should these partnerships be ie. when it comes to citizen data that a public agency holds, how much of it can/should be accessed by private companies whilst innovating on smart city applications?

Chong: In all partnerships, there are bound to be rules of engagement. One example would be the usage of private data will not be rampant as it is being regulated by the likes of PDPA and GDPR. The Malaysian government is also gearing towards Open Data in terms of readiness, approach on implementation and the possible impact of open data in providing benefits across agencies and citizens as well as transparency of data and meeting accountability demands in areas such as financial disclosures.

The development towards open data is public sector is a significant part in terms of growth and maturity of the nation. Transparency of data will allow citizens to know what data the government has and how they potentially will be using it so that the right people can be hold accountable. In addition to that, the open data allows government inter-agency collaboration and assist in driving innovation through the sharing of data within agencies and 3rd parties.

As time progresses and as Malaysia continue to embrace technology along the journey of becoming a developed nation, there are bound to be introduction of new policies and legislation on Open Data in ensuring data governance whilst enabling their existing data more transparent bounded with accountability. With more data being available to the government agencies and 3rd party, both the government and private sector will be able to leverage on the data transparency, combine it with analytics to improve services and interact with citizens in various ways and yield better outcome for a better Malaysia.