Startup Securaxis provides means to turn noise into data for smart cities
By Gaetan Vannay, chief of staff Securaxis
About 68% of the total world population will live in urban areas by 2050. City authorities and operators are looking to maximize data gathering to improve and expand their operations while preserving the quality of life of its citizens.
Smart Cities are leveraging new technologies that include the Internet of Things (IoT) and Information & Communication Technology (ICT) to gain these insights from data collection and processing in order to manage assets, resources, and services efficiently; this should then enable rapid and, hopefully, better urbanization. Sensors of all kinds are installed in cities today. However, a principal characteristic of a city is that smart solutions are still mainly deaf while sounds provide information which today is not exploited.
Sound is information
As the Chief Operations Officer of Securaxis, I would like you to listen to your city. It is sometimes easy to distinguish the different sounds that make up the everyday noise in your city. Vehicles move about. Ambulance sirens wail. Children yell at playtime. Workmen drill roads. These easily identifiable and characteristic noises change by time of day, weather and season. Then other unexpected and possibly dangerous things happen that generate – depending on where you are living – exceptional sound energy such as use of weapons, traffic accidents, screaming. Each of these also has its own particular sound detectable or not by the human ear. Whilst noise is measurable in decibels it can be perceived in a thousand ways.
To listen to the noise of a city is to hear living a city. To hear its moments of strength and weakness. But we still need to be able to locate, identify, and analyze what we hear to understand it. Enter smart acoustic monitoring. Integrating recent technological advances in the fields of Iot (Internet of Things), artificial intelligence, acoustic detection and data science, Securaxis has developed the means to detect and monitor specific sounds in urban environment permitting accurate and reliable monitoring of the activities that generate them. The sensor technology is backed by self-optimizing software (machine learning) so making the system increasingly useful for any specific issue in a given environment.
Sounds analytics for smart cities
Think for instance about traffic monitoring. Smart Acoustic sensors allow for the detection, counting and categorization of vehicles, as well as determining their direction, flow and speed. Monitoring traffic and parking slots or allowing sound based traffic lighting do not have to involve technologies that enable identification of individuals. Advances in technology relating to sound analytics provide an interesting alternative to cameras.
Think also about how real-time and accurate detection would bring the possibility of more rapid and targeted emergency response. Multifunction sensors would be capable of detecting and analyzing all types of sounds associated with violence and insecurity such as explosions, shots, screams.
Biodiversity is a key indicator of an ecosystem’s stability, a key factor in human health, and part of the “resilient cities” problematic. Preserving it requires a better understanding of the complex relationships between species and their environment together with raised awareness of the ecological impact of human activities. It has been demonstrated that sound is an efficient indicator for monitoring ecosystem biodiversity. Wildlife acoustic monitoring can provide information such as species present, their health and condition of their habitat and, importantly, it can determine a species’ interaction with human habitat or human built infrastructure.
The major advantage of intelligent acoustic monitoring over video in any urban context – other than being much cheaper - is that it does not carry the same implications for the privacy of citizens. With the Securaxis solution, there are no images and no recording; the data is light enough to be processed at the edge of the network, on device: the sounds never leave the streets, only metadata are sent.
The controversies surrounding San Diego's Smart Streetlights program is a highly pertinent case. This program generated suspicion that the San Diego Police Department was using cameras installed on lamp posts for crime-solving rather than for their original purposes of optimizing parking and traffic together with tracking air quality. Accusations have been made that these cameras have been used to surveil protestors marching this summer against racism. The program has resulted in “broken promises on civic innovation”
Broken promises could potentially mean broken laws as well. French legislation considers this kind of risk in legislation regarding information technology: “Information technology should be at the service of every citizen. (...) It shall not violate human identity, human rights, privacy, or individual and public liberties”.
Beyond the necessary regulations, new technologies offer a way forward in this area of privacy protection without losing any “smartness”.
These are only a few examples of what can be done by monitoring sound. The progress of humankind has inevitably brought an increasing proportion of an increasing population to live in urban environments. Cityplanners need access to a variety of tools and technologies for their day-to-day decision to become more efficient. Securaxis provides the means to turn noise into data to inform action. This sits at the heart of assessing, preparing and ensuring a city’s future.
*Gaetan Vannay is the co-founder and COO of Securaxis.