Moscow’s smart tech includes 160,000 outdoor cameras

And a separate pilot program uses A.I. to check CT images showing lung cancer

moscow red square
Credit: Marc Veraart (modified)

BARCELONA -- Moscow has rolled out new technologies to make the city safer, including 160,000 outdoor cameras focused on improving municipal services like trash removal, but also traffic and crime.

A city official said 10% of the cameras are focused directly on traffic control, while most monitor timely trash removal, street cleaning and other services. If a crime or something unusual happens in a location of a camera, the video is analyzed by police.

The effort is one of the largest municipal camera installations in Europe. Moscow, with 12 million residents, has installed enough cameras in the last 18 months to rival the number of traffic and public cameras used in London. There, the use of CCTV cameras ignited a public outcry over privacy invasions.

In Moscow, the camera rollout has made the city a safer place to drive, city officials said Tuesday. Safety improvements came after initial citizen outrage over the cameras because drivers started getting steep fines for violating road signs and signals. In most cases, the cameras recorded license plates on cars as their drivers ignored road signs and signals.

At Mobile World Congress here, a special booth highlighted dozens of startups from the Moscow area. Several of the young developers at the booth who live in Moscow groused openly about paying traffic fines as a result of the cameras, but shrugged that that technology has lately become a reality of Moscow life.

"There's a feeling in Russia that if the boss says something is this way, it's this way," said one young Muscovite who asked that his name not be used.

Without doubt, a city can use traffic cameras to generate needed revenues, several IT officials from various cities said at a smart city MWC panel discussion.

One of the presenters at the panel, Andrey Belozerov, deputy CIO for Moscow, focused on how the city financed the installation of the cameras, but didn't disclose how much revenue has been generated from fines.

The cameras were initially expected to cost $500 million. Instead, Moscow got various telecommunications operators to install the cameras and guarantee the delivery of the data to police and city officials. In exchange, the city was able to cut the cost in half, he said.

The $250 million in savings was used to fund Wi-FI in public school classrooms and tablet computers for teachers, Belozerov said.

One of Moscow's less publicized technology innovations has been a pilot project that relies on artificial intelligence (A.I.) to analyze CT scans for the presence of lung cancer, Belozerov said. The A.I. compares images of cancerous lungs with healthy lungs as a "second doctor's opinion" with a 97% accuracy rate.

The city, which oversees 500 public clinics, "hopes to find cancer at an early stage," he said.

Francesca Bria, CTO for Barcelona, said smart city innovations need to be paired with citizen benefits like more widespread broadband. The city has implemented several open government innovations, even providing a social networking channel where citizens can denounce cases of city corruption.

"Sometimes you don't need technology," she said. "Instead, you might [need to] retool the way government runs."

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