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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.

Infra.AI LIDAR images can help municipalities like Montreal monitor city infrastructure to identify such changes in status as detoriating bridges, broken windows or building code violations. 

With digital image information from satellites, low-flying planes and LIDAR-equipped city vehicles, technology under development at Infra.AI will make it possible for Montreal and other cities to provide almost-real-time data on street conditions or the safety of roads and bridges.

That data can be combined with information from traffic video sensors and sensors on buildings, says Maillet, who also co-founded a related startup, MLDB.AI, that is working on a machine-learning database.

The potential applications are far-ranging. A firetruck speeding to a fire might be automatically advised that there's an obstruction in the roadway, allowing it to take another pathway. Or a pothole larger than a foot could be spotted, automatically dispatching a road crew to patch it.  AI can even help identify a sagging highway bridge span, noticing a small drop when compared with the previous scans from days or weeks earlier. 

infraai pattern recognition
Montreal-based Infra.AI is employing pattern recognition intelligence to distinguish a group of pedestrians from vehicles. The software could be used to identify problem locations and develop systems for improved pedestrian safety.

Infra.AI is currently piloting a program that helps identify ailing trees on city streets, a problem plaguing Montreal right now. When the startup's AI system is shown images of healthy trees, it can compare those with recent imagery to identify less-healthy trees with patches and browning leaves that need to be maintained or replaced. 

"When you think of the kind of data [already] coming in from LIDAR and cameras, it's huge. The applications are now becoming possible with AI," says Jean-François Gagné, CEO of Element AI, a Montreal-based incubator dedicated to matching AI startups with larger companies and with government agencies.

Through its Canada First Research Excellence Fund, the Canadian government last year provided about $200 (US) million to three Montreal-based universities for research that Gagné believes will yield sophisticated AI spinoff companies in 2017.

In addtion, both Google and Microsoft have recently made investments in Montreal-based AI.

Mobility apps hit the streets

On a more personal level, another InnoCité MTL startup, Key2Access, is getting ready to test an app to make it safer for disabled people to cross city streets, according to CEO Sophie Aladas. Key2Access's tech is already being piloted in Ottawa, and has been successfully tested there by Richard Marsolais, a man with a vision impairment who is a specialist in independent living for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind


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