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Las Vegas Partners with NTT to Study IoT Impact on Transportation

The city and telecom giant will install an array of sensors in a 30-block area of downtown Las Vegas to study how big data and predictive analytics can prevent travel problems before they happen.

Wrong-way driving or even a broken window in downtown Las Vegas will receive an extra set of detection and analysis as the city deploys a network of video, audio and other sensors to gather detailed information related to transportation and public safety.

The city is partnering with Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) Corp., as well as the state of Nevada, to deploy sensors across 30 city blocks to gather information about how vehicles, bikes and pedestrians move around downtown, and then offer predictive insight into how transportation behavior is likely to occur in the future, given certain situations and variables.

“What we’re doing is using real-time analytics and then taking that data and looking at past issues, and then using additional data sets, such as crime, weather, any of the traffic flow data we have, to start looking at predictive analytics, and try to figure out what’s going to happen before it happens,” said Michael Sherwood, chief information officer for Las Vegas. 

The project, which has been collecting data for about 45 days, grew out of a “proof of concept” pilot begun in Las Vegas’ Innovation District, an area where the city develops smart city projects, generally with private- and public-sector partners like NTT, Dell or the Nevada Department of Transportation, to test projects in a real-world setting.

The partnership with NTT, an international information and communications firm based in Tokyo, offers the company an opportunity to further develop its smart city technologies, which could be marketed to other municipalities or states. “This is the starter, to prove out what we’re doing, to adjust and tweak our technology,” said Bill Baver, vice president at NTT.

Collecting and analyzing data — like when a motorist heads the wrong way up a one-way street — provides feedback to transportation and safety officials, giving them the kinds of data need to possibly redesign streets or signage, according to Sherwood.

“The business challenge of that is, you don’t know how many people are going the wrong way, because there’s been really no way to effectively count that occurring. So what we’re doing is have a video camera that’s able to analyze traffic and tell us, how many wrong-way drivers we’re having on a one-way street,” he explained. 

The city will then compare this occurrence against, say, weather data, time-of-day and other variables, including crime, to see is that a factor in that outcome, said Sherwood. “And so over time — and we’re getting to the point now where we can start predicting the times of day that we might have a wrong-way driver — that allows us to maybe make changes in the layout of the street, or provide enforcement,” he said.

The sensing technology also hears what’s happening in the city.

“There’s also what we call acoustic detection, of what some cities have called ‘shot spotter,’” said Sherwood. “We do acoustic detection, because we’re not just focused on gunshots, we’re focused on acoustic events.” This could be anything from a window breaking to tire squeals.

“We’re analyzing those sounds, and we’re going to start using that data to direct law enforcement,” said Sherwood. “But in the meantime, we’re analyzing that data and looking at, what kind of stories can we tell? So, a lot of what we’re doing right now is understanding the data, and then being able to make impactful changes in the way we operate internally,” he added.

The data being collected is owned by Las Vegas, and does not include detailed information that could identify residents or visitors, say officials.

“All of this data is aggregated; there is no PII,” said Sherwood, using the shorthand for personally identifiable information. “We’re not doing anything around individuals.” The NTT project fits within Las Vegas’ larger smart city strategy, he said. 

“It’s truly linked to what our mission is, which is ‘building community to make life better.’ We’re trying to use data and technology to help improve outcomes. It definitely fits with the mission of the Innovation District, which that’s what it’s been chartered to do,” said Sherwood.

“The future is now, and government must be ready to embrace technologies that can help to address community issues and make cities more livable,” said Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn G. Goodman, in a statement, following the Dec. 7, 2018, announcement. “We will continue to push the envelope with partnerships with companies like NTT, setting the stage for continued relationships and breakthroughs,” she added.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.