Las Vegas Looks to Expand Computer Vision Technology Pilot Program

Potential benefits for the city include reduced traffic fatalities, increased walkability and more efficient use of services.

Las Vegas is in talks to expand a pilot program that uses sensors with computer vision technology to count vehicle and pedestrian traffic, thereby creating a sort of Google Analytics for information about the city’s streets.

This program is made possible by a partnership between Las Vegas and Motionloft, a private company that provides the sensor tech with an accompanying dashboard to make data they collect accessible and easy to interpret for public servants. Las Vegas CIO Michael Sherwood said the pilot with Motionloft’s tech started with four intersections and eight total sensors, and his department is currently in talks to expand it.

The data being provided by these sensors — which includes how many cars pass through intersections at certain times of day, when and how long cars idle at individual lights, and where in the city the most jaywalkers are scrambling through the roads, to name a few — is new data that the city was unable to collect in the past. Sherwood said the dashboard that conveys the collect info makes the nuanced and immense data that sensors collect easy to interpret.

“To me, it’s simple,” Sherwood said. “I’m a technologist and a futurist, I’m not a traffic analyst, but I can look at these reports. They’re easy to understand.”

The project is currently being used to gather info, and Sherwood has a host of ideas for how the info can influence life in Las Vegas, both for the city’s permanent residents as well as the scores of international visitors that regularly descend upon it. Potential uses include positioning increased police resources at intersections when traffic flow is highest, or placing natural barriers in areas where pedestrians most tend to illegally cross streets.

Sherwood and Las Vegas also envision the sensors’ data as being useful for attracting new business owners to the city, as it can be used to show entrepreneurs locations and times that traffic in certain areas is highest, thereby enticing them to invest in those places.

For its part, this is not the first public partnership that Motionloft has engaged in, said CEO Joyce Reitman. The business has so far deployed its tech in several cities, including New Orleans, where it has proved useful for redevelopment and reinvigoration. Reitman stressed that Las Vegas presents a unique opportunity for these sensors to contribute to city services.

“Las Vegas is a special place,” Reitman said. “It’s known worldwide, and what [Sherwood] and his team are doing is so forward-thinking. 'Smart' city is an oft-used word, but they’re putting their actions where it takes place.”

So far, Sherwood and his team have three main ways in which they plan to use the data: to reduce traffic safety; promote walkability; and increase the efficiency of city services that affect the streets, such as sanitation, maintenance and police. Sherwood emphasized, however, that there may soon be many other benefits to this tech.

“I’ve said several times: Data is the new oil, and what Motionloft does is not only drill the oil out of the ground, it refines it and allows us to make unique policy and business decisions based on that refined product,” Sherwood said.

Motionloft is one of several smart technology tests currently underway in Las Vegas.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine