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Artificial Intelligence Helps Cities Get Smarter About Infrastructure Planning

Data analytics goes hand in hand with IoT, but adding a sophisticated AI into the equation helps make recommendations that maximize available resources.

While artificial intelligence is a loaded term that for some may conjure up images of a malicious Skynet system from the Terminator movie franchise, the reality is not as ominous. And when Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, argued during the U.S. Congress' first AI hearing — dubbed “The Dawn of Artificial Intelligence” — that it is already at work in the United States, improving the efficiency and productivity of systems across the map, he was right.

“Artificial intelligence is already seeping into our daily lives,” said Cruz, who is chairman of the Senate subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness.

The hearing, which included representatives from Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon University and NASA, among others, focused on the potential implications machine learning will have on the country’s labor market, national security and transportation.

One of the largest areas for growth through artificial intelligence is smart city planning and smart infrastructure. And smaller cities may hold the key in determining just how AI fits into these areas.

Take Redwood City, Calif., where a lack of available parking was a common complaint (as it is in many urban centers), despite the fact that nearby parking garages were only about 50 percent full, according to several studies.

To fix the problem, the city partnered with VIMOC Technologies for a pilot project in which the company not only outfitted two garages with vehicle sensors, which accurately display the number of available spots and their locations, but also measures traffic flow patterns and helps to provide information to understand when the garage is busiest.

These types of projects aren’t restricted to the San Franciscos or Bostons of the country. In fact, by operating in a smaller city, “We have more flexibility and less layers of government we have to go through to do pilots of different technologies,” said Christian Hammock, parking and transportation demand manager for Redwood City.

And hooking up sensors to physical objects is not a novel idea. The potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) has been espoused again and again; however, providing troves of data just is not enough nowadays.

“IoT is all about connectivity and capturing data,” VIMOC CEO Tarik Hammadou said during the hearing. “By using machine learning/deep learning and artificial intelligence, we can extract value out of that data.”

Data analytics goes hand in hand with IoT, but adding a sophisticated AI into the equation allows recommendations to be made in order to maximize available resources. And making use of what is already available is a driving factor for smaller jurisdictions like Redwood City.

This is just the first step for Redwood City, which is no stranger to innovation: It also just approved a pilot with Starship Technologies to test autonomous delivery robots.

“We are looking to expand the current system into a more dynamic way-finding system,” Hammock said, adding that by connecting parking data with smart lighting systems and connected water meters that can sense future ruptures, Redwood City is taking a more holistic approach to smart city planning. “Adoption of this sort of technology is the future for city infrastructure."

Having AI help make data-driven decisions on infrastructure and city planning is key to setting up a future where self-driving vehicles can function.

“In order for us to build connected vehicles," Hammadou said, "it is critical for us to build a very smart infrastructure."

Ryan McCauley was a staff writer for Government Technology magazine from October 2016 through July 2017, and previously served as the publication's editorial assistant.