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'Robot' sensors could influence Highland Council city centre roads policy


By Alasdair Fraser


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Equipment on top of a traffic light at Castle Road. Picture: Gary Anthony.
Equipment on top of a traffic light at Castle Road. Picture: Gary Anthony.

Artificial intelligence (AI) technology, being deployed across Inverness, could play a huge part in shaping Highland Council’s plans to create a greener city centre.

We can reveal that 34 “road space usage sensors” have been placed at strategic junctions and routes throughout the city.

They are also to be rolled out in other parts of the Highlands, where the Scottish Government’s Spaces for People initiative has brought temporary cycling and walking paths to encourage social distancing and sustainable travel.

Since the pandemic began, the council has made it clear controversial active travel routes could provide a template for permanent change.

The aim, once the AI hardware is fully operational, is to gather accurate data on who uses our roads, and when.

That would include detail on types of motor vehicle and patterns in other modes of transport such as bicycle and pedestrian use.

Funded entirely through the Scottish Government’s Smarter Choices Smarter Places initiative, it is not known exactly how long the £180,000 project might last.

Sensor sign on traffic lights at Castle Road. Picture: Gary Anthony.
Sensor sign on traffic lights at Castle Road. Picture: Gary Anthony.

The funding package agreed covers maintenance costs for up to five years, although the council says the sensors could be in place permanently.

The AI technology is being supplied by a firm called Vivacity Labs, whose mission statement is to “make cities smarter, safer and more sustainable” through urban transport and infrastructure improvements.

The firm’s website describes how video cameras and sensors capture up-to-the-minute data on all kinds of urban movement and usage.

A council spokesman said: “The council has secured funding from Scottish Government for a rollout across Highland of cameras that can capture traffic flows, and also differentiate between pedestrians, cyclists, cars, buses and HGVs.

Related story: Legacy of Covid-19 could be greener Inverness

“The data, collected in real time and accessible 24/7, will provide an accurate picture of flows both now and into the future.

“The data will allow the council to understand the quantities and split in traffic flows and how they change over time. It will be invaluable to monitor changes and also inform options into the future.

“The quality and coverage of the data capture will be a step change for the council.”

Related story: Inverness Covid-19 routes could be made permanent

Vivacity says they place great emphasis on privacy and data protection given the potential sensitivity of recording the movements of individual road users.

Its website reads: “Any video collected from the devices is solely used for the purpose of improving and validating the accuracy of the anonymous data that the devices produce.

“The videos will be less than one hour in total, and will be deleted. The system has been designed from the ground up to guarantee the privacy of every citizen.

Sensor sign on traffic lights at Castle Road. Picture: Gary Anthony.
Sensor sign on traffic lights at Castle Road. Picture: Gary Anthony.

“The sensors are designed to provide accurate data on the usage statistics of road environments in a completely anonymous way (and) do not collect personal data.”


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