Engineers wire up an urban brain

Updated: 2013-05-24 09:10

By Zhang Chunyan (China Daily)

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 Engineers wire up an urban brain

Mati Kochavi says his company will use innovative technologies to help build smart cities in China. Provided to China Daily

A smart city is being built in Jilin with help from Zurich company

From West to East, the smart city has become a catchphrase in urban planning worldwide, and a popular topic in science and business magazines.

As companies step forward to offer smart-city and safe-city solutions, cities worldwide have begun to invest a lot of time and big chunks of their budgets to turn those phrases into reality.

One such company is AGT International, which bills itself as one of the fastest-growing public safety and security solutions organizations in the world.

AGT, founded in 2007 and whose headquarters is in Zurich, has responded quickly to rapid change, allowing it to "drive changes in the market", says Mati Kochavi, the company's founder and CEO.

The company is now working as a long-term strategic partner with Liaoyuan, Jilin province, among 90 Chinese cities the Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development has designated to become smart cities.

AGT's appointment to do that job came three years after it set up AGT China, with its headquarters in Beijing. Over that time AGT International has become one of China's providers of city and water management solutions.

"Our first initiative in China related to building predictive and management solutions for flood management along the Yellow River," Kochavi says.

The technology was introduced in 2011 to forecast risks to embankments and reservoirs, and predict possible times and locations of floods in an effort to prevent China's second-longest waterway from flood disasters.

The early-warning system on flood prevention was developed by AGT International and the Yellow River Conservancy Commission, part of the Ministry of Water Resources.

Following successful tests of the system on the Yellow River in Henan province, the commission showcased the technology at the International Yellow River Forum in September last year.

AGT also sponsored lectures and presented solutions to fix problems in Chinese cities, including not only its own solutions but those that other companies offer.

Kochavi visited China several times last year and met civic leaders throughout the country, learning firsthand about the solutions particular cities need.

Under the Liaoyuan deal, in conjunction with the city government and Datang Mobile Communications, AGT International says it will integrate smart traffic management and a safe-city project using its UrbanShield platform, which provides a graphical user interface and a 3D map of the city.

In practical terms that means Liaoyuan is being given the wherewithal, among other things, to integrate traffic, security, pollution and water management.

The company says last month that its latest release of UrbanShield "builds on earlier versions of the software that provides city authorities and law enforcement officials with a single, holistic situational awareness picture of what is happening in their city, enabling them to evaluate the current situation in real-time; simulate outcomes of possible actions; potentially predict incidents before they occur; prepare for various contingencies; and mitigate loss and damage when incidents do occur by managing them as effectively as possible".

"UrbanShield 5.0 delivers new advanced analytics, such as facial recognition and automated vehicle tracking, that unlock the hidden value in big data and transform it into business intelligence (it) also includes new features supporting the city cloud concept where everything in the city is interconnected into an omnipotent safety system. Its enhanced integration, with more legacy and video management systems, makes it the optimal open platform for city operations management systems and improved investigation capabilities to enable faster and easier crime solving."

As part of the deal with Liaoyuan AGT International is also providing expertise and support in showcasing the intelligent city to the mayors and city managers of similar sized cities in China (with between 1 and 2 million in population, of which there are more than 400 in China) at a demonstration center.

"I believe that AGT International was selected to provide a city solution to Liaoyuan because of our extensive international experience and the global recognition our work receives," Kochavi says.

AGT International says it has implemented city solutions in more than 16 cities worldwide over the past two years. Within five years it achieved $1 billion in annual revenue, while managing $8 billion in projects.

It employs 2,400 people globally and has invested more than $400 million (309 million euros) to date in research and development.

AGT says that one way it builds smart cities is by processing the constant stream of big data that cities generate, and delivering "actionable intelligence" to the city. It merges data from legacy systems such as traffic or water management with the Internet, ensuring the delivery of useful solutions.

The company says it has shown that innovative technologies can help cities save energy, manage traffic more effectively, and better engage residents. It says it has also successfully proven that prediction tools can help cities achieve greater efficiencies.

Wei Qisheng, executive vice-mayor of Liaoyuan, says that by implementing AGT's technology, "we will be able to share our knowledge and accelerate the development of intelligent cities throughout China".

AGT's ambitions in China are just as comprehensive.

"We have shown commitment to the Chinese market by significantly investing in the country and the cities in which we work," Kochavi says.

Working in China, AGT International has learned many lessons, he says.

"Most significantly, we now understand the complexity of China's cities and the needs of their residents. We learned how to tailor our Harmony solutions to Chinese cities' unique needs and address the mayors' challenges with regard to city management and citizens' services, while understanding their budget constraints."

Comparing European and Chinese markets, Kochavi says: "One lesson that influences all our city solution projects is that a city's infrastructure will always grow more slowly than its population. Therefore a city's designers must thoughtfully consider its future."

Kochavi is under no illusions about achieving success in China in a field in which many other companies are selling the smart-city and safe-city concepts worldwide.

"We must enter China as thoughtfully as marathon runners, careful not to expand our city solution practice too quickly before we properly understand the unique challenges facing each city.

"We hope our local expertise and careful business strategy will allow us to offer smart-city solutions to China for many years to come."

AGT has other projects in China, Kochavi says, "including a project we were awarded in Guangzhou where we are deploying our city solution based on our Harmony platforms."

"Our solutions will increase the efficiency of the cities in which they are deployed and showcase our capabilities."

AGT says its solutions are based on the ability to predict problems with traffic, energy supply, pollution and water supply, and to be able to manage them efficiently before they occur.

Its technology even offers cities the ability to foresee building fires, reducing the risk to life and property, it says.

"To achieve these outcomes we use new and innovative technologies which we would love to see employed in China," Kochavi says.

(China Daily 05/24/2013 page18)