Building Smarter Cities with Data
Innovation & Technology
Written by Tommi Pekkala
Posti has an extensive delivery network that reaches out to every mail recipient address in Finland. Now imagine this network and its fleet being utilized to capture data from the Internet of Things: Combining data from traffic, roads, and the environment, everywhere from the busiest metropolitan streets to the most deserted rural villages. This is what Tommi Pekkala is working on right now.
The first real breakthrough? Reindeer.
In Lapland, reindeer car crashes are a big problem. Especially in winter, reindeer herds on the move can block roads and be hazardous for drivers. A few years ago, a mobile warning app was created for truckers and other professional drivers. They can use it to send out a warning to all other vehicles if they see a herd on the road. As a result of this peer-to-peer warning system, annual reindeer car crashes have decreased by over 20% from previous levels of around 5000 per year, also creating financial savings in the millions.
This caught the interest of fellow Laplander Tommi Pekkala, Posti’s business manager for data services. He started experimenting with the idea of collecting data from urban environments. If truck drivers in Lapland could warn each other about reindeer, what could the network of thousands of Posti vehicles and personnel detect as they moved through the environment across Finland? And what if these detections could be automated?
“We had some pilot projects already going to collect and utilize data from the environment, but then we took a leap forward. What kind of intelligent data could we collect automatically, how could we can distribute it efficiently, and to whom would it be valuable?” Pekkala describes.
Posti partnered with a firm that was at that time a technology startup, Vionice (and is now part of Vaisala corporation), that was developing machine vision with similar intentions. With their Viominer software, anything detectable by the human eye can also be detected and analyzed by a computer based on thousands of hours of video footage. For instance, if there’s a pothole or ice on the road and the camera captures it on video, the computer will recognize it automatically.
“The key value is that this information can be shared with other parties, like city road maintenance officials wanting to minimize traffic jams or accidents caused by road conditions or weather, and insurance companies seeking to verify customer claims. The Posti fleet will help cities and their stakeholder companies become more intelligent about their environment,” Pekkala says.
Espoo Smart City leads the way
This is how the Espoo Smart City project began. Video cameras were installed on Posti’s vehicles and the Viominer machine vision program began to discover and analyze certain anomalies in the environment, ranging from road bumps or blocks to weather conditions or traffic jams.
Espoo is the first city in Finland where Posti’s fleet has been equipped with intelligent technology. Trials of data usability are now being carried out together with a local environmental center, an insurance company, the city of Espoo, and a road upkeep contractor.
“What excites me most is that Posti has a really unique asset in our delivery network. Our presence is so extensive, we visit every corner of Finland every single day, and now this network can be utilized in a completely new way. We are even on the move during the early morning hours which leads us to having the most relevant information about our surroundings for the upcoming day.”
When the network data is integrated into the city’s infrastructure and processes, Pekkala believes it will have a huge impact for city officials responsible for safety and maintenance. Eventually the information will be available to citizens and consumers as well so they can make better decisions. For instance, if you’ve been informed that the road is covered with black ice in the morning, you can decide to take a bus instead of your own car, or at least be more aware around the area. This intelligence can improve our everyday environment – and make life smoother and safer.
Finland paving the way forward
When more of Posti’s vehicles are equipped for data gathering, the library of video footage will eventually add up to be utilized for example in research.
“There are so many potential applications we haven’t even recognized yet. I think we’re onto something big here,” Pekkala says. From a broader view, using both historical and real-time data, Posti can provide data to analyze how traffic behaves at a certain point of time and place – begging the question, could useful models be designed and refined for city and road infrastructure planning, as well as traffic control, to make traffic smoother and to lower emissions?
“Our vision is to extend this to cover most Finnish cities. In Finland we are uniquely able to create such a model thanks to our cost-efficient and reliable telecommunications. Large amounts of data can be distributed in real-time, soon extending to uses such as IoT in logistics and self-driving cars”, he says..
“So far, there’s only positive evidence about this kind of intelligence being able to prevent traffic accidents. When we have more information about driving conditions, we behave more responsibly.”
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