Moscow plans automation for smart city projects

Moscow plans automation for smart city projects
The next stage of Moscow’s transformation will be automation, says Tuzmukhametov.
Published: 21 February 2019 - 10:42 a.m.
By: Mark Sutton

Moscow is set to embark on the next stage of its smart city initiative, which aims to bring a new level of intelligence and automation to some of the biggest smart city projects in the world. The new initiative, the Moscow 2030 digital strategy, will focus on artificial intelligence and increased automation of services, and a move to fully digital provision of services, coupled with a citizen-centric, data-driven approach.

The new plan for Moscow will build on the achievements of the first stage of the project, which began in 2011. Under the control of city's Department of IT (DIT), Moscow has implemented a number of large-scale, citywide programs for its 12 million residents, in areas including healthcare, education, housing, transport and government. For the next stage of the city's development, Moscow wants to create smarter systems, leveraging Russian expertise in AI, big data and computer science to deliver new levels of efficiency.

Eldar Tuzmukhametov, Head of Moscow Smart City Lab, part of DIT, commented: "The next step, one of the pillars of the new strategy, is the implementation of AI technologies, as much as possible, in city management. I wouldn't say that we want to substitute officials as much as possible, but we believe that the technology is well developed and a lot of different processes can be done by machines."

The drive for automation will include relatively simple Robotic Process Automation (RPA), which will automate some multi-stage tasks that are still using human intervention in processes, Tuzmukhametov said, but will also look at more advanced AI, such a ‘pre-delivery' of government services, where AI can predict when a specific individual or group of individuals might require a city service, and proactively push that service to them, or in complex areas like construction or city planning.

The initiative aims to make one hundred percent of interactions between citizens or business and government electronic. This will include the elimination of some processes that still require physical transactions. Moscow has also started to deliver some services solely in electronic form, such as enrolment in schools, because it was clear that the target users, in this case parents of school children, were all already online and found it easier to interact electronically.

"We are going to continue this process, because more and more citizens are better adapted to digital channels than to offline ones - this is the core idea," Tuzmukhametov added.

Another area where automation is underway is the use of chatbots in the city's call centre, and Moscow is looking at improving the capabilities to make interaction more human. It also plans to use a chatbot interface for a new mobile app, which will deliver as many as 200 city services through a single service, using personalisation and chatbot support to help navigate and find the right services for the user without having to try and manage so many services in one interface.

A key element of Moscow's progress as a smart city is the communications infrastructure, with 4G and citywide public WiFi implemented early on to support electronic services. To support the next stage, Moscow will begin testing of 5G this year, with the aim of completing deployment by 2022. The city is also working out the best public-private partnership model for the deployment.

The improved bandwidth and speed of 5G will support possible future services such as video streaming, VR, and self-driving vehicles, which are already being tested in Moscow's Skolkovo Innovation Cluster.

The DIT is responsible for all planning and implementation for all city departments, and it is also responsible for all technology purchasing by city government, which gives it the scale and oversight to push projects across the whole city. The DIT "works and acts like a think tank," Tuzmukhametov said, developing the strategy and the technical requirements for different systems, and acting like project managers.

From the beginning of Moscow's smart program, the city has focused on city-wide, large-scale systems, rather than small pilot projects, he noted, and this approach is still central today.

"The overall strategy is to do city-wide implementations, because what we see is many other cities focus too much on pilots, and they struggle with the efficiency of the innovations. They do one pilot here, one pilot there, but they give nothing to the city as a big system. So our strategy is citywide implementation only," he said.

One project which aims to deliver value across the city in a number of areas is the Smart District, a program to test and develop smart buildings and related infrastructure. The project, which is already underway, has followed a different approach to most urban renovation projects, Tuzmukhametov explained, and instead of developing new housing on brownfield sites, has connected around 2,000 apartments in 20 buildings to make them smart buildings.

"The idea of the smart district is, to find out what are the best and most efficient ways to implement new technologies in existing buildings - smart metering, smart lighting, electric car chargers, technologies to control infrastructure and energy consumption," Tuzmukhametov said. "We completed this work and implemented everything we wanted, and during the next year, this winter and the summer, we will evaluate how efficient the technologies are."

The smart technology is already providing valuable insight, such as in the best positioning for electric car charging stations, as well as savings, including a predicted 20% reduction in heating bills due to energy saving technology.

The smart district will help the city to develop new strategies for repairs and renovation of existing housing stock, to make it smarter and more efficient. Standards can be developed and shared with private sector developers. Moscow also has a huge renovation program, to rehouse one million citizens in new housing over the next ten years, and the Smart District will help define the standards and strategy for these new public developments.

"This is why the pilot project is so important, because it will not just be us doing something, but we are going to prove that the concept works and is efficient, to everybody, including the private sector," Tuzmukhametov said.

The same standards will most likely be used for private sector construction, and they will include specifications for things like sensors, he added. This will allow the city to share its centralised, citywide systems like CCTV and energy consumption monitoring, which already have open APIs, to allow private developments to connect their systems to city networks. The private sector will then be able to access shared city services like cloud monitoring or video analytics.

"It is mutually beneficial, they can get some additional services, and from our side, we collect more information about the infrastructure that is built in the city, and we get the big picture of what is happening."

Moscow got the perfect test of its big bang approach to smart city systems, when it hosted the FIFA World Cup finals in summer 2018. Moscow worked closely with local telcos to ensure that communications networks were in place for visitors to the city, and of the course of the tournament, 144 petabytes of data was transferred over Moscow's mobile networks, 9.5 terabytes were transmitted through the city's Wi-Fi hotspots, and over 70,000 people connected to the city's free Wi-Fi network.

A key aspect of the successful tournament was video monitoring, with 4,288 CCTV cameras utilised to monitor stadiums, fan zones, metro stations and other World Cup related sites.

Moscow authorities also piloted three video analytics zones with over 300 cameras connected to facial recognition technology, which helped to identify and monitor known football hooligans and criminals. In total, 98 visitors were banned from entering FIFA facilities and the facial recognition and CCTV monitoring were credited with having created a peaceful and safe environment for the football.

Tuzmukhametov added that aside from the specific renovations at Luzhniki stadium, and expansions of the communications networks, World Cup visitors were mainly enjoying the benefits of initiatives that had already been put in place by Moscow for the day-to-day running of the city.

"The key lesson was that the strategy for the development of the city is great, because we had guests from all over the world, using public WiFi, public transport, the QR codes for information, and they enjoyed their stay here - we had very good approval for everything that we do," he said.

"The difference with Moscow [from other World Cups] was there were very few things that we did especially for the World Cup - it is better to say the World Cup just perfectly fitted into everything we have done already for developing the city."

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