'City brain' a smart way to bypass traffic

Nearly 150 delegates and invited guests from over 20 countries attended the first general assembly of the Belt and Road Local Cooperation Committee recently held in Hangzhou.

In 2016 we saw a tendency on the road. There were more and more surveillance cameras when you looked up, but traffic jams got worse,” said Min Wanli, chief machine intelligence scientist of the Alibaba Cloud, at the first general assembly of the Belt and Road Local Cooperation (BRLC) Committee recently held in Hangzhou.

Min is one of the speakers from the Alibaba Group and Zhejiang University who gave an update on the latest development on Big Data and artificial intelligence. Government officials from Guangzhou and Hangzhou in China, Oulu City in Finland and Guri City in South Korea discussed specific cases.

Participants for the first general assembly of the Belt and Road Local Cooperation Committee held recently in Hangzhou pose for a group photo.

The BRLC was proposed and initiated by Hangzhou government and the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries in 2017. It is a working committee under the framework of United Cities and Local Governments, a non-profit organization that promotes and facilitates cooperation between global cities. Hangzhou became a member in 1998.

Nearly 150 delegates and invited guests from over 20 countries and regions joined the assembly in Hangzhou to discuss the mechanism and work plan of the committee and shared experiences on using smart technology to improve city governance.

In 2016, the then mayor of Hangzhou, Zhang Hongming, announced to the public that the city was going to launch a “city brain” project by partnering with the Alibaba Cloud and the electronics manufacturing company Foxconn.

The computational capability of Alibaba Cloud to process massive data was first applied to the city’s traffic control system.

“Technically more cameras should have brought more data. What we do is to make an (almost) real-time analysis of the data and make the whole system smarter, so that accidents can be avoided before it really happened,” said Min.

Min Wanli, chief machine intelligence scientist of the Alibaba Cloud, shares experiences and application of the city brain with delegates from 20 countries around the world.

The landscape model of Hangzhou’s newly developed areas, including Qianjiang New City, Olympic Sports and Expo Center

At present, the city brain takes over 1,300 traffic lights and 4,500 surveillance cameras, covering an area of 420 square kilometers. As a result the level of congestion drops by 3.5 percent.

“To put it simply, our cloud computing technology can help average commuters save five minutes on the road during rush hours every day,” added Min.

Apart from that, the real-time monitoring also allows traffic police to arrive at the scene of an accident even before they are informed of such.   

“Tapping on a special algorithm, we summarize traffic incidents into 110 types that can be detected automatically,” Zhou Weigang, head of the technology and information department of Hangzhou Traffic Bureau, told Shanghai Daily. “To handle these incidents, 93 types of reactions have been written into the program. When a certain situation is triggered, the city brain will be able to alarm the nearest police officer to take action.”

Zhou says another benefit of the system is that it makes traffic conditions into concrete figures. The screen at the traffic control command center shows an update of seven key indexes, including the number of cars and average speed on the road, level of congestion and level of delay. The officers therefore may give out instructions in accordance in a more accurate manner.

A report, released by AutoNavi navigation service, indicates that the ranking of Hangzhou on the most congested cities in China drops from No. 3 in 2015 to No. 57 this year.

The experiences on smart city governance in Hangzhou are also being applied in other cities. The city brain has been launched in 11 cities around the globe including Quzhou, Suzhou, Chongqing and Macau in China and Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia.

In Kuala Lumpur, they build a synergistic traffic control system that anticipates a coming ambulance 10 seconds ahead of time and changes traffic lights to make room for it, which reduces its travel time in the busy central business district by almost 49 percent. 

The assembly also approved constitution, presidents, advisors and secretary general of the BRLC Committee. Altogether 17 cities and organizations have been selected as candidate council members of the committee.

Since its establishment in 2017, the committee has made productive results at all levels through a series of events held at home and abroad, including an entrepreneurial youth camp sponsored by BMW China, the first e-commerce training workshop in collaboration with the Alibaba Group and also the Blue Bird initiative which aims to help Hangzhou-based companies go global.

“In the future, the committee plans to extend more collaboration in areas of economic development, sewage disposal and rural construction,” said Xu Liyi, mayor of Hangzhou and also president of the committee.

Up to date nearly 70 cities and organizations in the world have joined the committee.

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