Each year the National League of Cities publishes a report analyzing speeches made by mayors across the country to learn about the biggest issues facing U.S. city leaders. Each year, infrastructure, public safety, and budgets rank among the top concerns of mayors.

With the tech industry’s attention turned to Smart City ambitions, it’s an exciting time for municipal leaders to reimagine what their cities are capable of. The introduction of new sensors and big data promises to address these key issues, while new mobility solutions are expected to transform urban landscapes for the better—eventually.

Keeping in mind the urgency of inadequate infrastructure, the growing threat of pedestrian fatalities, and increasingly strapped city budgets, how can new technologies help cities today, not just tomorrow? By harnessing the data that comes from the latest ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems) cameras, cities can cost-effectively improve their infrastructure while enhancing safety.

 

Enabling the infrastructure revolution

Every city can be described in terms of the relationship between its infrastructure and its citizens. Whether it is the electrical grid that delivers electricity to consumers, the water supply network which provides clean water, or the transportation system, they all exist to improve the mobility, livability, and safety of the people.

But to make the leap from a city to a Smart City complete, with all the promises of radical efficiencies, an automated and connected data layer is needed between the infrastructure and city users. In the past decade we’ve seen increased usage of IoT (Internet of Things) sensors to monitor assets such as water pipes, making maintenance much more efficient. But when it comes to road infrastructure, cities are still struggling to support mobility in an efficient and safe way, and are looking for automated, cost effective solutions.

Today’s latest-generation forward-facing cameras for ADASs, those constantly scanning the road to prevent and mitigate collisions, can also serve as the ultimate sensor for infrastructure asset management. By optimizing the sophisticated perception algorithms in ADAS systems to detect both road hazards and roadside infrastructure information, cities can achieve smarter and safer roads simultaneously.

 

Smart agents on the road

Each year, more vehicles are equipped with the most advanced, AI (artificial intelligence)-enabled forward-facing cameras to power driver-assist safety features. Camera-based collision avoidance warning systems can also be retrofitted to almost any already-on-the-road vehicle, making them an ideal solution for fleets interested in improving safety without investing in new vehicles. These ADAS cameras are continuously scanning the roadway ahead and covering many miles, instead of static sensors that are restricted to a fixed location.

Using sophisticated computer vision and neural network algorithms, ADAS cameras apply pattern-recognition techniques to detect and classify stop signs, traffic signals, pavement markings, pedestrians, and more to perceive the environment so that the driver or vehicle can take action and prevent a collision.

Connected camera sensors deployed on fleets, passenger cars, and municipal vehicles can serve a dual purpose, improving vehicle safety while extracting real-time information related to infrastructure. What’s more, because these advanced sensors are connected to the cloud, they can seamlessly transfer data to city operators so leaders have the very latest information on the status of their assets such as stop signs, crosswalks, and lane markings.

Recent research estimates that Smart City technology can save governments, enterprises, and citizens over $5 trillion per year. An automated and accurate understanding of our infrastructure can serve as a critical enabler of that massive cost savings while also improving the quality of lives. Imagine a world where a city knows, in almost real time, about any infrastructure deficiency or where cities can locally target their infrastructure maintenance. Think of a city that can learn in real time about a new pothole that was formed in the middle of a bicycle lane, therefore creating more near-miss incidents of cyclists forced to ride in the car lane and fix it immediately.

 

Driving efficiencies with dynamic data

In early 2017, Intel’s Mobileye announced a technology called Road Experience Management (REM). The end-to-end mapping and localization engine uses ADAS cameras to not only sense the environment, but also to localize the perceived objects on a map that is constantly updated. Two years later, REM algorithms can detect a host of landmarks and objects, define their attributes, and create a layer that can then be overlaid onto a map and provide novel insights about cities or create HD maps for higher levels of autonomy.

Ordnance Survey, Great Britain’s national mapping agency, is currently demonstrating the potential of using ADAS to collect infrastructure data in real time. Every year in the UK there are 60,000 “utility strikes,” a dangerous and costly instance where routine drilling results in unintentional puncturing of below-ground structures such as gas lines, electrical cables, and water pipes. In the UK, utility strikes alone result in 12 fatalities and 600 serious injuries each year and annual third-party damage to utility assets is estimated at $380 million. The root cause of the problem is that only 48% of under-the-road utility infrastructure is mapped and, of this, 84% has been found to be inaccurately recorded.

Ordnance Survey recently partnered with Mobileye to create the first detailed roadside infrastructure dataset of Britain for a new highly accurate, regularly updated location-information service. Fleets of vans and cars retrofitted with Mobileye camera-based mapping technology will capture a more precise view of the country’s road and utility network. The data from the fleet are then cross-referenced with Ordnance Survey’s dataset, providing utility companies with more precise information on the location and status of their assets. Aligning an under-the-road map of utility structures with an above-the-road map of utility assets will allow utility companies in England to better understand their system layout and correct their respective maps.

A McKinsey & Co. report estimates that “digitization of utility infrastructure can enhance asset management and increase profitability by 20-30% through reduction in strikes and construction duration.” A water company in the UK, for example, will be able to create an accurate map of its water pipes by aligning it with the manholes detected by the camera sensor.

Mapping Japan’s highways is another example of how ADAS cameras and algorithms can bring infrastructure asset management to the next level. In 2018, Mobileye cameras surveyed all of Japan’s highway system and created a map with over one million road objects. Detected objects included 320,000 signs, 300,000 poles, and 250,000 lane markings, which together with other information obtained provided new insights such as the effectiveness of speed-limit signs.

 

Cities deserve innovative solutions

City and state leaders across the country have proven their willingness to adopt new, novel solutions to improve their communities and address today’s unique challenges. The ambitious, widespread goal of transforming cities into Smart Cities has demonstrated that municipal leaders are eager to take advantage of the latest technological advancements. Maximizing the power of the latest-generation ADAS technology for both road safety and infrastructure maintenance has the potential to transform city livability and mobility in the near term without straining strapped budgets. By taking advantage of the growing adoption of production and retrofitted ADAS, today’s forward-thinking public servants can simultaneously address their more pressing challenges and effectively achieve their primary goal—improving the lives of constituents.