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Montreal sees its future in smart sensors, artificial intelligence

Matt Hamblen | Feb. 7, 2017
Partnerships with a vibrant startup community help Montreal retain its top “intelligent” ranking.

The Quebecois city of Montreal has long been known as a hotbed of creativity -- home of Cirque du Soleil and a hub for companies in the online gaming and special effects industries, not to mention its place as a financial and trade capital.

Creativity played a key role when the city of 2 million (with 4 million regionally) competed against other municipalities globally to win the 2016 title of Intelligent Community of the Year.

And now that commitment to creativity is spurring the city to explore a range of unique new smartphone apps and other startup-generated initiatives that leverage sensors, data collection and analysis, and machine learning to deal with snow removal, ever-increasing traffic and other municipal challenges.

Public Wi-Fi, smart mobility and digital public services are just some of the 70 municipal projects detailed in the city's Smart and Digital City Action Plan, begun in 2015. More than half of the projects are expected to be finished by 2018, though some will take longer.

"Montreal is known as the place 'where Shakespeare meets Moliere.' It's a creativity hub," says Harout Chitilian, the elected official in charge of the city's smart city initiatives and technology. "All these things meshing together make Montreal one of the greatest startup digital ecosystems."

By intent, the government has made that startup ecosystem a key compontent of its smart city push, says Chitilian, who serves as vice president of the city's executive committee, the executive branch of the municipal government that includes Mayor Denis Coderre.

Of the dozens of initiatives currently underway in Montreal, several involve partnerships with the private sector in which the city, Quebec Province and businesses share costs. Those projects range from a high-speed, fiber-optic Scientific Information Network to eight different smart mobility and parking projects.

The principal driver of this partnership is InnoCité MTL, an independent, non-profit tech accelerator that receives both city and business financial support. Housed in the historic Notman House in downtown Montreal, InnoCité MTL has already fostered more than 15 startups in just over a year.

Notman House was alive with activity when Computerworld visited during a cold snap in mid-December, 2016 as part of a three-day tour of this smart city. Here's what we found.

A focus on artificial intelligence

The city government, along with the Province of Quebec and members of the academic community, have put special focus on artificial intelligence. Those efforts meld well with private sector startups that likewise are tapping the power of AI.

One such startup is Infra.AI, which intends to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to scan high resolution images of the city's streets and buildings. "The benefits of AI are numerous," says co-founder François Maillet. "The fact that Montreal is serious about smart city and investing in it, there's a direct and positive impact in the startup community and the R&D. For the city itself, it provides better services to the citizens."


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