A city-wide network of sensors and cameras spans New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, perched on streetlights, buildings and rooftops.

These disparate streams of information feed into a city management platform, which makes sense of it all. Officials can use these data in one particularly important way: to reduce crime.

“The most immediate benefit is public safety,” David Lee, Councillor and technology portfolio leader of Wellington City Council, tells GovInsider. The platform employs artificial intelligence algorithms to analyse CCTV footage and sensor data so that the city can “direct our law enforcement or staff to certain areas very quickly.”

Two years ago, the council started using the Kite platform, which Lee describes as “a real big step forward in technology” for the city. He tells GovInsider about how data is making city management more efficient, and his plans to encourage more electric vehicles and car-sharing.

Sniffing out crime

David Lee Wellington This “holistic approach” to city monitoring lets officials measure air and water quality, pedestrian movements, traffic, and other metrics, Lee says. “We’ve even got little ‘sniffers’ which can detect if there have been solvents, like when someone has been sniffing glue – or graffiti detection,” Lee adds.

The platform also cross-references these data with that from various public safety agencies. If triggered, the platform will then send alerts to people in the control room, Lee says, who will deploy resources to the area of suspicious activity. “We’ve seen pretty significant improvement by having that level of monitoring,” he adds.

Control room operators may use this information to increase street lighting and deter people that are up to no good. “Even just by increasing the lighting at that area at that particular time can actually defuse a potential conflict-type scenario, say, a disturbance or a fight about to erupt,” Lee explains.

Beyond policing and public safety, these insights lead to reduced congestion in the city, and “reinforces certain types of land use planning decisions”, says Lee. “It’s primarily about safety, [but] it’s about efficiency too,” he says.

Smart buildings

In the interests of efficiency, the city has recently installed parking sensors. These currently feed information to law enforcement, but “ideally, we want real-time information to push it up to smart signs to tell drivers where parking is, or how to get to places,” Lee shares.

The platform also helped to reduce begging on the streets, Stuff.co.nz reported earlier this year. It drew footage from CCTV cameras and data from acoustic sensors to create a map of street-level trends and patterns. These data allowed the city to address homelessness, the report said.

This management platform is “all-encompassing”, and the council is constantly adding more and more sensors across the city that feed into it, Lee says. The council is now in the midst of installing roughly 400 monitoring devices on buildings around the city “so we know the performance of buildings in case of an environment event”, he adds.

Electric dreams

Another big area of focus for the city council is sustainability, and in particular, electric and autonomous vehicles – which Lee believes are “the way of the future”. Yet, New Zealand has a long way to go in this aspect.

Citing Norway as “the best role model” for electric vehicles (EVs), Lee shares, “Norway’s population is about the same as New Zealand – about five million. They’ve got almost 120,000 EVs; we have 3,800.”

However, Lee points out, Norway has an environment that is more conducive to EV ownership – there is no sales tax for these vehicles.

Lee hopes to see the number of EVs in New Zealand double every year, so that the country may “easily get to about 10-20,000 vehicles in the next two years”. One way he wants to encourage more electric and hybrid vehicles in Wellington is by providing more charging stations. “This year, we want to roll out about 20 public, on-the-road, carpark charging stations,” Lee explains. He adds that the region also “needs to look at more charging infrastructure”.

The council is working with a telco, Spark, to convert redundant telephone booths into charging stations – aptly named Sparkplugs, he says. And to encourage car-sharing schemes, soon there will be a hundred parking spaces across the city allocated for car-shares, according to Lee.

Wellington is leading New Zealand’s smart city ambitions, in the hopes that citizens are safer and the city runs more smoothly – while also being kind to the environment.

Public safety agencies will be in Singapore at Innovation Labs World on 26 September 2017 to share lessons on boosting capabilities. Register today.

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