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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.

Marsolais and his guide dog, Ashland, along with Motaz Aladas, head engineer for Key2Access (and CEO Sophie's father), demonstrated for Computerworld at a Montreal intersection how a small handheld device or a smartphone could be used to activate a Bluetooth-enabled crosswalk signal, making it safe for a vision-impaired or disabled person to cross. (See Smart Cities: Montreal for video footage of that demonstration.)

Marsolais says it would be helpful to have a handheld activation device to change the signal, instead of relying only on his guide dog or an audible crossing signal, which isn't always easy to hear. In addition, it isn't always clear in which direction it's safe to cross; Key2Access aims to solve that problem by using audible commands or vibrations to direct the user onto the crosswalk in the proper direction.

For Key2Access to function, traffic engineers in Montreal will need to install a receiver at each intersection to receive the wireless signal from the handheld device, Aladas says. The cost will be comparable to enabling a traditional crosswalk button on a pole, Sophie Aladas says. The city is expected to install the gear on at least one intersection in the spring as part of the testing phase.

Taming the traffic tiger

A number of initiatives are in the works to help reduce traffic in Montreal in the next two years, including a tripling of the number of intelligent traffic signals to reach 2,200 units.

Data from the 700 existing smart signals installed over the last two years and from 500 surveillance cameras and Bluetooth sensors already helps prioritize buses traveling the streets to lessen commute times by 15% to 20%, the city's Chitilian says, with more improvements expected. Montreal is also in partnership with Waze, Google's crowdsourcing traffic app, to help syphon off driver data for greater intelligence.

In Montreal, the bike's the thing

In addition to its efforts to lessen traffic congestion and improve the efficiency of public transportation, Montreal heavily promotes bicycle riding. It's not uncommon to see bicyclists pedaling through downtown streets even in the dead of winter.

Bixi, a bike-sharing system, got its start in Montreal in 2009; as of 2015, there were 3.5 million Bixi rides each year in the city, and the service has grown to 45,000 bikes in 15 cities. The Bixi mobile apps for iOS and Android, along with other Bixi add-ins developed by Montreal startups, allow everything from online payments to personal fitness tracking for the bikes.

Separately, Montreal startup SmartHalo is testing technology to turn any bike into a smart bike using a rider's smartphone and its GPS connection.

 

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