The Daily Prosper
Building the perfect city with Big Data and the Internet of Things

Building the perfect city with Big Data and the Internet of Things

Costa Rican urban planner Arianna Salazar has developed some technology that detects and analyses ambient information and how pedestrians behave, in order to improve the design of cities.

New technologies are transforming the spaces where we live into so-called smart cities, promising to optimise and improve the services that a metropolis offers to make life easier for city dwellers. Sensors to regulate traffic and avoid accidents, environmental pollution detectors and connected waste-management systems. But as well as these smart solutions, there are other more common urban challenges that should be given a once over. Where would it be best to create a green space? What is the impact of construction work undertaken during working hours? Would an underground train line in an outlying area be useful?

Urban planner and postgraduate researcher at MIT (in the USA) Arianna Salazar, believes that it should be the city that adapts to its inhabitants, rather than the other way around. For this reason, in order to answer these questions and make the right planning decisions around where to put street furniture or build roads, she has developed and cofounded Bitsence.

This start-up offers a tool that provides valuable information on citizens’ habits to help governments, companies and individuals to understand how a city should be. For this project, Salazar has been chosen by MIT Technology Review in Spanish as one of the 35 winners of the 2017 Latin American innovators under 35.

“We need to understand what the relationship is between technology and cities, and put it to use with real problems”, suggests the Costa Rican urban planner. In order to do this, BitSence combines hardware (sensors that work via the Internet of Things) and software (its own algorithms based on big data techniques) that analyse pedestrian activity in the city and ambient information. BitSence detects signals from smart devices that people carry, such as smartphones.

By doing so, it identifies the habits of users without them having to do anything. Behaviour models are obtained, and these signal for example how many people are in a park, how long someone stays in a square and how often they visit it, air quality, amount of light, temperature and noise level. “Thanks to these conclusions, cities can offer services more quickly, improve their maintenance and cleaning routines, and redesign spaces”, explains the researcher.

Her first live project, Local Sense Lab in the city of Boston (USA), works off the idea that anything local is extremely valuable. Together with two other start-ups from MIT, Categorical Informatics and Supernormal, they monitored pedestrian activity in four blocks that surround an open-air market in the Downtown Crossing district. The aim is to guide the urban interventions of local governments and town planners, by making the most out of data from city dwellers.

For Salazar, as well as improved infrastructures in smart cities, “the future is also about providing services in real time, which are based on demand”. With her initiative, BitSence wants technological innovation to exist to improve the relationship and the connection between big cities and their people. “Cities are for people. We’re not interested in creating technologies that do not address and solve real problems”.