Mongameli Bobani gunning for a Smart City
Artificial intelligence-powered CCTV cameras with smart lighting displays on buildings around the Port Elizabeth City Hall precinct may be in the pipeline.
This plan, still in its early stages, comes after a municipal visit to Shenzhen, a modern metropolis in China.
Acting city manager Peter Neilson said his visit would help in preparing a tender or request for proposal to instal a smart hub around the City Hall precinct.
“This will allow the municipality to proceed with a pilot project around City Hall,” he said.
The news comes after mayor Mongameli Bobani said a man carrying a gun had breezed through security and sat for hours in the corridors outside his office before he was noticed.
The incident, according to Bobani, happened three days after he returned from his China trip.
“We learnt the value of safety in a Smart City,” Neilson said after their visit.
“Cameras and smart software were of great importance, with the options to improve service delivery and safety.”
He said the pilot project would have two objectives.
“It will be to create a safe and comfortable environment around the City Hall’s greater area and feeder routes.
“This will be through smart IOT [Internet of Things] devices and cameras.”
Neilson said he hoped to bring people, small businesses and moveable markets to the area.
This, he said, would be done through smart lighting displays on surrounding buildings with possible laser displays as well.
Neilson said he was unsure what level of artificial intelligence should be implemented but it would eventually be similar to the cameras in Shenzhen.
The cameras have facial recognition software and can also determine a person’s age, gender and colour of their clothing.
“That is the long-, even medium-term goal.”
He said the city council adopted a resolution to take part in the National Treasury’s public-private partnership proposal to develop a Smart City.
“The council and political arena need to be aware and up to date on what possibilities exist on what a Smart City actually is and the value it will bring to the city.”
He said overall, the Smart City deal would be a 15-year private partnership proposal.
Exactly how the AI cameras work in Shenzhen is the basis of a documentary by China Central Television.
In the footage, a number of boxes can be seen popping up next to a person which include details of their age, gender and clothing colour.
China first started using the facial recognition technology to catch jaywalkers in Shenzhen in April 2017.
Portraits of offenders were uploaded to large LED screens installed on the side of roads.
Neilson and Bobani were accompanied by infrastructure and engineering political head Andile Lungisa and technical services, electricity and energy acting senior director Tando Tsepane.
The delegation met officials from the city’s local government and representatives of communications technology giant Huawei and the Shenzhen Smart City programme.
The four travelled on Emirates Airlines – with Bobani and Neilson in business class and the two others in economy class – at a cost of R137,000.
Lungisa flew to Hong Kong on February 18, while the other three left the day before.
They then used a vehicle to drive to Shenzhen.
The municipality did not pay for their accommodation at the four-star hotel the delegation stayed at.
It took just four days in China to convince Bobani that the Bay was in desperate need of a sophisticated, crime-fighting intelligence network.
“The purpose of the trip was to go to China, which is one of the leaders in technology,” Bobani said. “There is a new thing now with this fourth industrial revolution and they talk about a Smart City.
“We wanted to learn and investigate everything around the terminology of a smart city so we can be able to get investors.
“The objective of our trip to China is to investigate the smart city concept so that our city doesn’t lose out.”
Bobani said what stood out the most was the low crime rate in Shenzhen.
“With this Smart City concept we can get rid of crime once and for all,” he said.
“This is the most important thing when investors come to your city as the first thing they ask about is crime.”
He said the delegation was impressed with the way technology was used to fight crime.
“China has no crime and has a population of 1.2-billion, while Shenzhen has 20-million and there is no crime,” he said.
Shenzhen, in fact, does have crime with levels increasing in the past three years, according to Numbeo, one of the world’s largest databases of user contributed data about cities and countries worldwide.
The website lists corruption and bribery as the most prevalent type of crimes in the city.
But more violent crimes have dramatically decreased since the installation of the AI cameras.
In a district of Shenzhen – which first installed the technology – theft and robbery cases dropped by more than half, and the AI cameras helped solve 67% of these crimes in the first part of 2017, according to the China Daily newspaper.
Asked how crime had taken centre stage during his trip when less than two weeks ago he claimed Nelson Mandela Bay was one of the safest cities in SA, Bobani said he had meant it was incident-free over the December period.
He said the smart city technology would also detect blocked drains and old sewer lines before they burst.
It is unclear how much it would all cost to instal the cameras across the city.
“Our infrastructure is old, and if you are going to change the entire system you are going to need quite a number of millions but we are investigating ways around this,” he said.
The city’s CCTV system is plagued by constant disruptions and shutdowns.
This is after the municipality cut ties with Afrisec Strategic Solutions in 2016 and started legal action against the firm for R92m it believes it is owed.
The municipality is, however, pursuing an out-of-court settlement with Afrisec.
With this Smart City concept we can get rid of crime once and for all. This is the most important thing when investors come to your city