11 Public Safety Solutions for Smart Cities Using IoT
If you watch the news regularly, you might think the world is a dangerous place, especially if you subscribe to one of the many online news aggregators that feed your paranoid echo chamber with personalized news feeds. In reality, both violent and property crimes have dropped significantly over the last 25 years. Public perception is perhaps finally catching up with the facts: The National League of Cities reported that public safety is the No. 5 concern among municipalities, dropping out of the top-three issues since the survey began. Technology is almost certainly playing a role, as companies like ShotSpotter (SSTI) have deployed an AI-powered audio detection network that pinpoints gunshots within seconds, giving police an edge in fighting crime in more than 100 cities.
Public safety, of course, isn’t just about playing cops and robbers. Smart cities of today are constantly looking for ways to make their operations more efficient while also providing services and infrastructure that helps people live safely in their homes, neighborhoods, and public spaces. The bright minds at CB Insights put together one of their hallmark market maps on the different ways cities are becoming smarter using sensors, big data, and artificial intelligence, as part of the Internet of Things revolution.
Under the category of public safety, CB Insights lists 11 startups, only one of which we’ve covered in the past: Evolv Technology out of Waltham, Massachusetts, develops various people-screening solutions. Think high-tech metal detectors that use a subset of AI called machine learning to detect guns, bombs, and other devices that go bang, without slowing down physical security at places like airports. Evolv’s detection systems also come equipped with facial recognition technology. The startup just added $24 million to its coffers in October, bringing total funding to $53.8 million.
Update 01/08/20: Evolv Technology has raised $30 million in Series C funding to expand sales, marketing, customer support, channel programs, and product development. This brings the company’s total funding to $83.8 million to date.
That leaves us 10 companies to dive into.
The Ticket to Facial Recognition
There are certainly no lack of startups working on computer vision and facial recognition technology, especially in China, led by companies like SenseTime that are an integral part of the country’s big brother social credit system. Blink Identity employs its facial recognition algorithms for more benign purposes. Founded in 2018, the Austin, Texas startup has raised $1.5 million in Seed funding for its selfie-based ticketing system at venues like stadiums. Before attending an event, users enroll in a venue’s ticketing program by sending a selfie to Blink Identity. The image is converted to a unique code called a template before the photograph is erased. In line, the company’s specialized machine vision camera shoots another photo that is converted to a template that is compared to the identity in Blink Identity’s database. There goes the $15 billion scalping industry.
AI Video Surveillance for Public Safety
Back to more dystopian uses of computer vision for public safety. Bengaluru-based Cognitifai uses computer vision to analyze video content for a number of uses cases, at least that’s what we finally figured out after going through their malfunctioning website. It calls its AI platform for smart cities Policy Driven AI (though the white paper refers to Policy Drivel AI, which might be a Freudian slip). Cognitifai claims it has developed more than 120 video intelligence algorithms that can do things like recognize traffic violations such as speeding and noncompliance with helmet laws:
In other uses cases for public safety, Policy Driven AI can help smart cities monitor danger zones or restricted areas, detecting when a person, for example, jumps over a barrier or a fence.
Biometrics for Access Control
A South Korean company called Suprema has offered various biometric solutions for access control and public safety for nearly 20 years. Of course, it has to keep up with the upstarts and recently introduced its latest facial recognition technology called FaceLite, which is capable of doing 30,000 matches per second and accommodates up to 30,000 users, which seems to imply it works in about one second. Its most recent intelligent door controller, CoreStation, handles up to 500,000 users with fingerprint matching speed of up to 400,000 matches per second at up to 132 access locations.
GPS That Works Anywhere
We recently wrote about the emergence of LiFi, a wireless communication technology that uses light. One of the other applications of the technology is for indoor positioning where GPS often doesn’t work, though the use cases have been limited to retail operations by using LED lights that send a unique code to a customer’s mobile device, accurately pinpointing the user’s specific location on a map of the store.
Meanwhile, Silicon Valley-based NextNav, founded in 2008, has raised more than $158 million for an indoor positioning system that uses old-fashioned radio waves but in a part of the electromagnetic spectrum dedicated to location services. It has attracted multiple investments from Goldman Sachs, among others. NextNav’s Metropolitan Beacon System (MBS) can track any enabled mobile device, such as a smartphone, in a dense urban environment, down to the floor and room in a high-rise building, with an accuracy of 94%:
The capability is supported by a network of transmitters that covers an entire city, which can use the technology for various public safety applications, such as tracking first responders in a building. Another use case is urban air mobility where NASA is testing the MBS for urban drone operations.
Update 01/15/20: NextNav has raised $120 million in equity and debt funding to expand its network to the 50 biggest markets in the U.S., in part to take advantage of the new FCC requirement. This brings the company’s total funding to $278.4 million to date.
A Drone Command Center
Of course, drones are already being used for a variety of purposes, including infrastructure inspection, aerial mapping, and delivery. And while Strax Intelligence Group isn’t the first company to use drones for public safety, it has developed a platform that integrates drone surveillance with various other data streams into one map-based view. Founded in 2015 and formerly called EagleEye Intelligence (when drones seemed to be more integral to the game plan), the company has raised $9.7 million in disclosed funding. The company claims to use AI to integrate disparate sources of data, including safety apps, sensors, video feeds from public and private cameras, as well as helicopters and drones.
Another Smart Camera System
We suppose that smart camera and smart lock systems are a type of public safety tool at the micro level. A Bangladeshi company called B-Trac Solutions launched home security division Seemo in 2017. It has developed both a smart doorbell and a smart indoor motion sensor. Both have pretty similar features:
Everything, of course, can be controlled from the comfort of your smartphone.
App for Public Safety
To continue on the topic of apps: Founded in 2016, Bogota, Colombia-based Ctzen is an app that allows people to send complaints about things like potholes, vandalism, and broken street lights directly to the department or company in charge of the problem area. The app shouldn’t be confused with another mobile solution called Citizen, which also launched in 2016 and has raised $38 million to date thanks to investors like Sequoia. New York-based Citizen is more like a combo of Nextdoor and a police scanner, monitoring hundreds of public-safety radio bands 24 hours a day. After filtering out the juicy bits, the app sends out short alerts within a quarter-mile of a public safety incident. App users can supplement the information with video, pictures, or comments.
Public Safety Abroad
Kidnapping is big business, with criminal entrepreneurs estimated to be making about $1.5 billion in ransom money per year. We’re obviously in the wrong business. Washington, D.C.-based Base Operations, founded in 2018, offers a kind of pick-and-shovels play on the theme. The startup has raised $2 million so far to help keep people (mostly those who need kidnapping insurance in the first place) with a platform that uses AI to aggregate information from social media, official crime data, and other sources to provide real-time intelligence through an app for travelers and a dashboard for security personnel.
Public Safety Through Education
One way to ensure public safety is to make sure criminals are ready to return to society once they have served their time. Founded in 2012, New York-based American Prison Data Systems (APDS) has raised $19.4 million for its hardware and software platform that delivers individualized education, rehabilitation, job training, and re-entry programs for correctional systems. ADPS is used in 66 facilities across 17 states. In Arkansas, for example, incarcerated learners at one facility experienced a 57% increase in GED pass rates using an APDS tablet and content versus non-users.
Safety for Seniors
AltumView Systems out of British Columbia, Canada is addressing the needs of another segment of the population – the elderly. The company claims to use sophisticated AI algorithms to automatically monitor unusual behaviors and alert caregivers when an incident occurs using a camera it calls Cypress. For example, the platform is capable of analyzing a person’s gait and alerting caregivers if he or she is at risk of falling.
AltumView is part of a growing agetech sector focused on using robotics and AI for elderly care.
There are a lot of moving parts to a smart city, which explains why so many IoT solutions are focused on things like transportation and parking. Keeping people connected to services that can keep them safe is certainly no less important, though based on the representative sample above (where are the robotic security guards?), there is still plenty of room for additional solutions.