How NewSight’s Vision Sensing Technology Make Our Cities Smarter

Only 2% of the total land surface on Earth are urban areas. However, they contain 55% of the global population. By 2050, 68% of the world population are projected to live in the cities, mostly in China, India and Nigeria, according to the United Nations.

While our resources, including land, food, water and raw materials, are limited but our population grows continuously, we need to have a good plan to utilize our valuable resources to meet the needs in the future.

How can we alleviate traffic congestion and reduce air pollution when the number of cars on the roads are increasing? How can we reduce waste, maintain the hygienic quality and improve social security when our community is growing? How can we produce more food at a lower cost to feed the larger population? How can we consume less energy to reduce carbon emission?

We believe vision sensor, spectrometer-on-chip, artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet-of-Thing (IoT) are part of the solutions to enhance our cities’ liveability and sustainability.

What is a Smart city?

A smart city is one that utilizes new technology to improve its standard in transportation, security, waste treatment, healthcare, housing development, water and utility by collecting data, analysing data, learning patterns and predicting usages. Data processor will translate the constant stream of raw data into insights, alerts and actions, providing information to relevant people in real time. With the help of vision sensors, advanced communication networks and data of traffic volume, pollution level, energy usage and human behaviours, the urban planner can optimize city infrastructures to accommodate the needs of citizens.

Top 5 cities evolve into Smart City

Singapore, the second most densely populated city with 8,000 people per square kilometer, has smart technologies already integrated into buildings, environment and living. The government aims to implement intelligent energy saving street lighting and to install solar panels on 6,000 rooftops by 2022.

Dubai, the emirate country with the most extraordinary model buildings, works to digitize all the government services, including transportation, communication, infrastructure, electricity, economic services and urban planning. Three autonomous police stations have been built, and four more mobile autonomous stations will be built soon. Incredibly, a contractor used a 3D printer to contract a 31-foot-tall and 6,889 square-foot concrete building recently. 3D printing will be the new method of development for the future of Dubai.

Oslo in Norway, Copenhagen in Denmark and Barcelona in Spain are embracing the adoption of sensor-based systems to control the lighting, heating, waste management and security. They want to optimize energy, cut the carbon emission and permit only electric vehicles and driverless vehicles eventually, running on the roads.

Smart Motorway & Traffic System

Advanced vision sensing technology is not only adopted in automotive but also widely adopted in transportation systems to keep traffic running smoothly. Equipped with the vision sensor and data processor, a Motorway Incident Detection & Automatic Signalling (Midas) system is created to manage traffic actively as well as automatically.

Large number of vision sensors are adopted in motorways to detect speed driving and monitor the highway condition. When the visibility is low in heavy fog, the Active Traffic Management system, known as Smart Motorway, will reduce the driving speed limit. When a stationary car or broken down vehicle in the middle of the highway is detected by the vision sensor, the Smart Motorway system will send an alert to traffic police and switch on a ‘Red X’ signal to close a lane for police car to arrive. When a car accident occurs, the Smart Motorway system will transmit the image to the police station and close all lanes to stop the traffic. When traffic is heavy, the Smart Motorway will open the hard shoulder as an extra lane for temporary passage and direct the vehicles to other routes. The chance of accidents on Smart Motorway is lower. The Smart Motorway has improved safety and reduced the casualty rates by more than 25% according to Mike Wilson, the Chief Highway Engineer in the U.K.

An efficient traffic management system is essential in urban areas to help maintain clear and smooth traffic. Vision sensor technology is installed within a city to mitigate the traffic congestion on the major roads. When a traffic jam occurs, the smart traffic management system will alert the drivers and activate appropriate road signage to re-route vehicles automatically. In fact, parking is a major cause of traffic slowdown in city centre. Therefore, smart parking systems are popular and widely integrated into many GPS driving systems. Vision sensors will send data to an onboard GPS system or mobile device app to inform drivers where parking spaces are available so drivers need not waste time to find parking space.

Vision sensors installed at traffic lights not only monitor vehicles on the road but also the pedestrians too. When a large lorry or bus approaches a traffic light, the smart traffic light will switch on the ‘Green’ light signal for the lorry and stop other vehicles in other directions. Large vehicles will produce noise as well as air pollution when braking and require more energy to start running again. When only one car is approaching a traffic light but no other coming in any direction, the smart traffic light will switch on ‘Green’ light for the car to pass without unnecessary stop. More importantly, when the smart traffic light detects pedestrians waiting on a side of pavement, it will assist pedestrians to cross the road safely by estimating an appropriate time to cross the road and progressively alert drivers in advance. Smart traffic lights can reduce accidents at pedestrian crossings.

Utilizing vision sensors at bus stops, the smart bus shelter can collect the information of the passenger flow and the bus arrival time in order to analyse the cost and usage of buses. Bus company will be able to reschedule bus timetables in order to optimize bus usage and avoid overcrowding in rush hours. On the other hand, buses connected with Internet-of-vehicles will provide arrival time to the Smart bus shelter. The bus arrival time will be displayed at the bus stop.

High quality and high resolution vision sensors with long range are required for these smart transportation systems to capture clear information of fast running vehicles on the roads from day to night. Information sent to the smart transportation system should be error-free. Puddle or large shadow on the road should not be mistaken as a stalled vehicle on the road. Smart transportation systems rely on data accuracy from vision sensors to generate the right instruction to manage the city.

Smart Public Service System

Autonomous police robots already patrol in cities of the U.S. and in Dubai. While some of them have round cylinder bodies, some are humanoid with heads and arms. Each is equipped with a video surveillance system, high quality LiDAR vision sensors, ultrasonic sensors, GPS and IoT installed in order to roll along the streets, record scenes from day to night, transmit data back to station and answer questions. Those robots are also used in the property management sector, looking after the public security of residential and commercial buildings now.

Video surveillance systems, which are usually installed on lampposts, can be found in major cities. Those systems monitor the number of people going into a park and provide data for the park operator to manage events, and the operator can enforce the social distancing policy to maintain safety standards under the pandemic environment.

Many people believe those video surveillance systems have improved community safety, as their high quality vision sensors can recognise faces and identify a person under very low light. These surveillance systems do not only recognise faces but also analyse movement to spot anomalies and unusual patterns in video streams. When a suspicious behaviour is identified, the surveillance system will trigger an alert to police who can offer assistance for any emergency or take intervention to prevent any serious incident from happening.

Advanced vision sensor technology is applied in the public service system to handle the sanitation works which most people do not want to do. In most developed countries, trash is separated into food waste, cardboard, glass, metal, paper and plastic for recycling purposes. Spectrometer-on-chip created by Newsight is the tool to identify the nature of these trashes. When a trash is presented in front of a spectroscope, the spectrometer device will classify the analyte’s material and indicate the Smart Trash Bin to open the corresponding lid of the recycle bin automatically. Trash sorting process can be done accurately without human workers involved.

Alternatively, some cities offer cash back incentives to collect recyclable trash, including metal cans and plastic bottles. Their Smart Trash machine will have a sensor-based chip to read the barcode printed on the trash and capture the manufacturers’ information. The amount of cash paid to users will be determined by the agreement between the recycle management company and the product manufacturer.

Anyway, all those Smart Trash bins also have vision sensors installed to monitor the remaining capacity. Once the Smart Trash bin is full, the sensor will send a signal to trash collecting truck to come and empty the bin. As a result, the trash collecting trucks will not make any unnecessary travel. So their number of trips can be reduced. The waste management company and urban planner can retrieve precise data to plan for landfills and incinerators.

Smart Healthcare System

COVID-19 is a catalyst to robotic development in the healthcare industry. Robots are deployed into many tasks in hospitals, clinics and elderly centres, helping to prevent the spread of infectious disease due to human contact. Round cylindered autonomous robots are working in many hospitals to deliver medicines and meals to patients. Other humanoid robots, which can interact more with people, are teaching injured patients and elderly people to do exercises daily.

Most excitingly, advanced medical robots equipped with robotic arms, high quality 3D vision sensors and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are transforming the surgery process. Autonomous medical robots will perform certain surgery operations entirely on their own. They can perform complex micro-procedures without making large incisions. Autonomous medical robots will perform the minimally invasive procedures. They can also monitor patients with chronic diseases in the near future.

As the global population is aging quickly but the supply of caregivers is not enough, Smart Home Monitoring system for elderly is becoming essential in many developed countries. This smart device has 3D vision sensors to monitor the elder’s activities, studying his/her daily life practices, including when to get out of bed in the morning, when to make a coffee, when to cook dinner and when to go to bed at night. The vision sensor will study those daily patterns in order to assess the health condition of the individual. When the person does not get up from bed as usual and the pattern deviates from normal, the smart device will trigger an alert to his/her relative through a mobile app. This is a very useful device for elderly who live alone.

Some vision sensor manufacturers have developed pregnancy test kit in blood with the spectrometer-on-chip technology. NewSight has also developed a diagnostic test kit for tropic virus with blood and COVID-19 mouthwash test kit using the same technology. Those test kits have 99% accurate results within a few seconds, giving hope in the pandemic world.

Smart Restaurant, Grocery store & Supermarket

Autonomous delivery cars, which are about the size of a coffee table, are spotted in US and UK restaurants now. They have LiDAR vision sensors, ultrasonic sensors, GPS and IoT built in.

Operator inputs the address of a customer. The autonomous delivery car will follow the GPS navigation and send alerts to the customer on arrival. The customer enters the password given by the restaurant to open the lid and pick up the food. The autonomous delivery car will go back to the restaurant for battery recharge.

There are already autonomous vans running as grocery stores in some areas in the U.S. and U.K., selling milk, fruits, vegetables, bakery and snacks. Customers can order from the autonomous grocery store via mobile app. The van will go to the locations by request. In 2019, autonomous electronic trucks started delivering goods for supermarkets and factories in Sweden without a human driver or worker. 200 more autonomous trucks will operate in Europe and the U.S. by the end of 2021.

More and more supermarkets have replaced their checkout counters with cameras and vision sensors. Self-check-out machines can be found in many supermarkets. Customers present the barcodes of the products to check out and proceed with their payment. In Amazon’s convenience shop, surveillance cameras are installed every square inch up on the ceiling to monitor customers from multiple angles. Customers are required to scan a QR code via their mobile device before entering the shop. Vision sensors and surveillance cameras have seen large demand in the retail sector now.

Smart Warehouse, Factory and Airport

Automatic assembly lines have been widely adopted in many warehouses, factories and airports to handle boxes and bags. Autonomous loader robots, which have LiDAR sensors, vision sensors, GPS and IoT connected, are used to move heavy objects in factories. Advanced vision sensing technology, including the NewSight’s barcode scanner performing high sensitivity, high resolution with dynamic range at high speed, can be used in the inventory management. The sensor can read the barcode to retrieve the product information, identify the correct storage area for the product, carry the product and place it into the right location of a warehouse. In the warehouses of large ecommerce companies like Amazon, Smart logistic system is used to manage both incoming as well as outgoing inventories.

The smart logistic systems at airports work similarly. They scan the barcode on luggage, identify the destination and direct the luggage to the right aeroplane for departure. The smart logistic system has eliminated human error as well as avoided worker injury caused by heavy lifting.

Smart Building

Home devices are getting smarter with technology improved. With light sensors and movement sensors, the lighting outside the house, especially in the corridor, will turn on at night automatically, turn brighter when people walk along and dim lower when no people come.

Smart Doorbells with 3D vision sensors and surveillance cameras are useful because they let people inside the house see whatever occurs outside at their door. Videos are recorded 24 hours a day. People can receive notification and talk to their visitor through the mobile device, even when no one is at home. In addition, Smart doorlock, which has 3D vision sensing technology, can recognise face, fingerprint or other biometrics. Door can be unlocked by the registered persons, which offers better security protection than a door key or password.

Car parks are adopting vision sensing technology to monitor the incoming vehicles as well as outgoing vehicles in some cities. Entrance barriers or ticket counters disappear in the smart car park. Information on car plates together with a timestamp are captured by vision sensors at the entrance and exit. Drivers no longer have to worry about losing the car park ticket.

Smart Greenhouse

Intelligent sensor systems are used extensively in the agriculture industry in recent years. Smart greenhouses have been built in urban cities to grow vegetables in factory buildings. Vision sensors are installed to monitor the growth of plants, collect data for agricultural analysis and control lighting in the farm in order to optimize the growing process. NewSight’s MCU-on-chip does not only acquire data but also analyse data to make the robot smarter over time. Furthermore, Robotic arms, with ultrasonic sensors and vision sensors, allow the farms to operate automatically to avoid infections by human workers. Smart greenhouses are becoming more and more important to urban dwellers, as they will supply vegetables with minimal transportation, less energy consumption, less water and no extra land required.

Smart Water, Food & Beverage Management

Clean water, which is essential to humans, animals and vegetables, is a valuable resource on the earth. We need to ensure the water quality is good enough to drink. Taking water samples to test in a laboratory once a month is not a reliable or efficient method to ensure the quality of our drinking water.

NewSight has developed a vision sensing technology to detect contaminants in running water continuously without touching the water. Their spectrometer-on-chips have been adapted by a water company in Israel to monitor the running water and process data for analysis. Israeli is protected from water contamination in real time. In addition, their chips can also work as a smart water meter to measure the water usage and transmit data for each household.

The spectroscopes are also used for quality control in the food and beverage industry. When the foods are travelling on an assembly line and passing through the spectroscopes, the impurities and deteriorating materials can be identified within seconds from the light reflection on different substances. The bad quality food can be spotted out. This quality control process is easier, faster and more accurate than human eyes.

Vision Sensor technology is a Solution of our future

In 2021, the global spending on smart city projects is predicted to reach USD 135 billion with a jump of 22% from last year. Looking forward, the global smart city market is expected to maintain growth at a CAGR of 20% during the forecast period from 2021 to 2026, according to Businesswire.com. The estimate is based on the increasing population to 9.7 billion by 2050 and urbanization forecast from the U.N.

Vision sensing technology companies will continue to actively participate in solving different issues through a sensing-as-a-service (SeaaS) business model. Their advanced vision sensing technologies have been applied in the transportation system to maintain smooth traffic, in the public service system to handle the sanitation works, in the healthcare system to save life and in all businesses to enhance operational efficiency with lower energy consumption.

By utilizing vision sensor technology, artificial intelligence and Internet-of-Things, cities can improve their living environment by reducing wastes, air pollution, energy consumption and carbon emission. Productivity is enhanced in the agriculture sector, manufacturing sector and logistic sector. Home security and road safety can also be improved too. As a result, residents in the smart cities will suffer less from air pollution, noise pollution, water pollution or food shortage. People will enjoy work life balance with a better living environment.

Smart city solution of NewSight video:

Written by Dr. Kyle Wong, and Ms. Florence Ip

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