Roads are critical to modern society. Whether you are a commuter or commercial driver, bus rider or cyclist, our road transport network is a vital part of getting from A to B. However, this universal reliance on roads has consequences. Congestion continues to get worse, with the average London driver wasting 100 hours a year stuck in traffic. Worse, there are hundreds of thousands of accidents annually in the UK, resulting in almost 2,000 deaths a year on our roads.
To combat this, road transport authorities gather data to understand the problems, using a combination of technology, infrastructure and education to try and solve them. However, the techniques are outdated, requiring significant human monitoring and analysis.
At Vivacity, we have set out to bring urban infrastructure into the 21st Century. Using digital image sensors, we are taking the next step beyond simply using technology to record images or video. Digital image sensors are the ‘eyes’ of our artificial intelligence units, with which we can accurately count and classify vehicles and other road users. Our technology interprets and recognises what it sees in the same way a human would. This intelligent processing happens on board the camera itself in real-time, and then the video is discarded. Only anonymous data remains, preventing any infringement of people’s privacy.
Our story started with the MK:Smart project, which aimed to turn Milton Keynes into a smart city. Over a series of projects, we developed our technology to the point where it was ready to roll out at scale. The core technology was very successful, winning a range of prizes and awards from the Royal Academy of Engineering, BT and Highways UK. This enabled us to raise an investment round, and then grow our team rapidly to over 20 people.
To extend the work of MK:Smart, we are installing 2,300 sensor units across Milton Keynes. The sensors will enable us to provide the local authorities with a data source thousands of times richer than anything they have had access to before. Our goal is to enable better decisions to be made about how to run the road network; whether that is prioritising major infrastructure projects or optimising the time at which a traffic light should go green.
However, the journey doesn’t end with better data. Artificial intelligence has made huge advances in a range of related fields, including predicting the future based on historic data. Vivacity are building algorithms to forecast traffic an hour ahead of time, giving drivers the ability to dodge traffic jams. This would also allow transport authorities to manage the network proactively, rather than just reacting to events. We will also connect with future autonomous vehicles and provide them with an extra set of ‘eyes’, improving both their efficiency and the safety.
We are talking to a number of other cities about further installations – so look out for our sensors being installed on lamp columns near you!