Cities range from the large to the small, the old to the new, and the well-known to the hardly-ever-heard-of, but the one thing they have in common is an appetite to meet the needs of their population. Smart cities are hubs of cutting-edge technology that help make municipalities work better for everyone, from giving residents better lives to enabling thriving businesses.
Smart cities are reshaping global economics, the relationship of people to their physical spaces, and the needs for new talent, skills, and attitudes to embrace the future. By leveraging cloud and edge computing powered by 5G (and LPWA, or Low Power Wireless Access), cities have new opportunities to engage residents, increase safety, and promote efficient operations at low-cost. The use of this advanced technology, including the intelligent edge, artificial intelligence (AI) and 5G, will truly transform how we live, work, and develop new applications and solutions through collaborations across government and industries.
Proximus + Microsoft deliver on Kortrijk’s vision as a smart city
Kortrijk is a smart city in Belgium that used technology to access pedestrian count to promote safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. For a city, knowing the number of people on the streets in relation to a venues’ capacity is an important element to consider when looking for innovative ways to make the municipalities safer. Beyond the pandemic, though, learning how people move in a particular area can have a great impact on a city’s activities, so having the right tools to access this data can lead to smoother operations and better engagement.
Using edge AI and IoT technology to quickly solve for city challenges
Kortrijk originally relied on webcam barometric pressure readings to gather pedestrian counts, but after several tests, it became clear that live counts were not accurate, prompting city officials to look for alternative solutions. After exploring the market for a suitable solution, Proximus, one of the largest mobile telecommunications companies in Belgium, turned to Azure Percept to propose new alternatives to Kortrijk.
Azure Percept is a comprehensive end-to-end edge AI platform with pre-built models and solution management, as well as Zero Trust security measures, to safeguard models and data. It offers the capabilities to start a proof of concept in minutes with hardware accelerators designed to integrate seamlessly with Azure AI and Azure IoT services.
With this, Microsoft partnered with Proximus, which is the leading telecom provider in Belgium, to develop an innovative, proof of concept solution that leverages Proximus’s cellular network to address the live-count limitations the city had encountered with previous technologies. The strategy was to set-up a test system which included:
Video analysis for pedestrian count
Video analysis with 3D cameras
Point cloud analysis relying on millimeter wave radars
Sound analysis based on sound sensors powered by AI
Sensors were placed in key locations and tests , which did not require an initial investment from the city, were conducted in late May. By leveraging Azure Cognitive Services and ML, Proximus was able to deliver vision and audio insights in real time. The results served to decide which model was best suited for the city by estimating the ideal technology and placement options to obtain optimal pedestrian counts—becoming one of the first operators in Europe to directly integrate Microsoft edge capabilities into the heart of its network.
Intelligent edge for smart cities
Innovation does not come without challenges though. With new applications, services, and workloads, smart cities need solutions and architecture built to support their demands. Enter the intelligent edge, a continually expanding set of connected systems and devices that gather and analyze data. Users get real-time insights and experiences, delivered by highly responsive and contextually aware apps, and when combined with the limitless computing power of the cloud, the possibilities for innovation are endless.
Bringing enterprise applications closer to data sources, such as IoT devices or local edge servers, results in faster insights, improved response times, and better bandwidth availability. Cloud flexibility and scalability allows for easy integration and deployment, and with low maintenance costs, processes can be managed centrally while still allowing deployment of software depending on the user's needs—resulting in accelerated value, reduced operating costs, and increased efficiency. With this, smart cities can invent and innovate to meet the demands of the future.
The 5G power wave—fueling edge computing
The importance of 5G and LPWA stems from its potential to accelerate value and improve efficiency as it provides a new set of latencies and features that did not exist in the 4G environment and previous generations. This is particularly relevant in smart cities where the convergence of industry, public service, and other enterprises requires high density, speed and bandwidth and low power networks that—when paired with technology—opens a new world of possibilities.
For Kortrijk and other cities, this powerful combination offers accurate insights as well as fast and cost-efficient solutions to address their particular needs. The data gathered through computer vision—which detects objects and movement in real-time—is robust and configurable to support different scenarios, allowing city officials to evaluate their options and make decisions that lead to optimal solutions.
Full throttle toward 5G and smart cities
Thanks to advanced technology like the intelligent edge, AI, and 5G, we have the power to make smart cities a reality more easily. More and more cities around the world are welcoming this approach and solutions are being created and deployed to address the most pressing concerns that decision makers face every day.
Azure Percept, along with the entire portfolio of Azure services for smart cities, is designed to speed the development and deployment of secure and comprehensive edge AI solutions from partners like Proximus that can leverage a range of edge endpoints – cameras, gateways, environmental sensors, all leveraging telecom infrastructure including 5G and LPWA.
Ultimately, the goal is to create fully integrated smart processes that use data, technology and creativity to shape how people and goods move—making smart cities not only innovative but also safer and more reliable to support economic growth and meet the challenges of the future.