Using eyes in the sky for sustainability: HU research team to harness AI, satellite imagery to create Lean, Smart cities

LEANCITIES2

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 90 percent of the world’s population breathes polluted air.

WHO estimates that about 7 million people die annually from exposure to polluted air, deaths triggered by strokes, lung cancer, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and respiratory infections, including pneumonia.

According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, exposure to polluted air, water, and soil caused more than 9 million premature deaths in 2015 – three times more than malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis combined. Other pollution forms, such as noise and light pollution, can cause stress, anxiety, headaches, and sleep loss resulting in decreased productivity.

These alarming statistics recently led a team at HU to begin work toward real solutions aimed at changing the troubling pollution picture. The team intends to develop a blueprint for cities to minimize waste sources in electricity, transportation, water, and more.

Pictured left is Dr. Iheb Abdellatif, information technology and management profess. Pictured right is John Quigley, Director of the Center for E3 at HU.

Dr. Iheb Abdellatif, information technology and management professor, and John Quigley, lecturer and director for the Center for Environment, Energy, and Economy (E3) at HU, were awarded an HU Presidential Research Grant to work with students to design and create methodologies, tools and systems that will enable Lean, Smart Cities; that is, cities that use data and information technologies used to manage  assets, resources and services efficiently to reduce pollution and their climate footprint.

To help design the work and provide the most benefit to cities and towns interested in reducing their carbon footprint, HU has enlisted the Pennsylvania Municipal League, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that represents participating Pennsylvania cities, boroughs, townships, home rule communities and towns that all share The League’s municipal policy interests. Sustainability is a key focus for the organization, and The League is excited to work with HU on the project, said League Executive Director Rick Schuettler. The League is offering advice to the HU research team on how the tools can be made more useful to municipalities.

“The Pennsylvania Municipal League is pleased to have partnered with Harrisburg University on the Smart, Lean Cities research project,” Schuettler said.  “Technology is of utmost importance to our PA communities for its role in improving the efficiency of citizen services.”

Car detection using satellite imagery and AI

So how will it work?

To accomplish its mission, the group intends to work along two thrusts:

  • T1 – Design a LEAN methodology for Smart Cities: As mentioned above, minimizing waste sources will reduce pollution and save many lives. In this thrust, the team plans to use the LEAN manufacturing methodology (LEAN is the concept of efficient manufacturing/operations that grew out of the Toyota Production System in the middle of the 20th century that, among other goals, seeks to reduce the waste sources in manufacturing) in order to minimize the city’s waste sources. The main objective of the proposed LEAN Smart City methodology is to optimize the people, resource, effort and energy of cities toward creating value for the citizen.
  • T2 – Develop a LEAN Smart City Platform. In this thrust they will propose to integrate the LEAN methodology proposed in T1 through the implementation of a LEAN Smart City Platform (LSCP). The proposed LSCP will be a computer-based tool that will collect, process and analyze satellite imagery using artificial intelligence (AI) techniques. The platform will also use additional heterogeneous data sources (city sensors, crowdsourcing, governmental databases, etc.) to help process satellite imagery.

To start, the team will use satellite imagery to address light pollution, traffic, resource management, and urban development and planning. Below are the initial issues the group will cover by using satellite imagery:

  • Light pollution: By using satellite data, the team will evaluate extent, intensity and quality of illumination and evaluate whether this illimitation is poor, enough or excess, helping reduce electricity waste.
  • Traffic monitoring: Analyzing satellite images of roads during traffic hours will help cities understand how many trucks, cars and other engines exist in each region. Consolidating this information with ground data collected from air quality sensors will provide cities better understanding of air pollution sources (traffic, factories, agriculture activities, etc.) and improve air quality predictions. By doing so, the team will help Smart Cities reduce transportation waste.
  • Resource management: Satellite images could be used to track, and measure resources managed by cities such us, water reservoirs, oil reservoirs, etc. By doing so, the group will help Smart Cities natural resource waste.
  • Urban development and planning: Nighttime satellite images of land areas could help city managers analyze development of urban clusters for better planning of new urban centers. This will allow SMART Cities to reduce their waste in terms of infrastructural resources (transportation systems, telecommunication networks, etc.).

More applications will be developed as the research continues. Other examples could include:

  • Using infrared satellite imagery to identify heat waste from buildings, thereby identifying energy efficiency opportunities on a large scale.
  • Using infrared satellite imagery to identify urban heat islands that increase energy use for summertime air conditioning, and couple that with computer-aided planning for mitigation through efforts like tree planting and greening initiatives.
  • Using satellites to identify the presence of various air pollutants; that data can be incorporated into pollution measurement scenarios as the research proceeds.
  • Using satellite imagery in combination with computer aided planning to identify opportunities to develop rooftop solar and community solar power development opportunities.

“This project will help undergraduate students become familiar with disruptive technologies used by Smart Cities. Based on my experience with undergraduate students, these technologies are very attractive to them. Given their little experience, undergraduate students are usually curious to understand, for example, how satellites work or how autonomous trucks can travel from one point to another without any human intervention,” Abdellatif said. “Through this proposal, I aim to encourage undergraduate students to consider graduate programs by inviting them to work jointly with graduate students and publish conference papers.”

The project also meshes well with the launch of HU’s Information Systems Engineering and Management Ph.D. program. Any graduate student whose research is related to Smart Cities and sustainability can work on the project, Abdellatif said.

The team undertook its research in November and plans to deploy its methodologies and tools by the end of June. Abdellatif believes the project also would benefit instructors, IT support staff, and professors by enhance their ICT and management skills. But benefitting the most will be the environment and society, Abdellatif said.

This project is being undertaken as a part of HU’s Center for E3. “One of the signature elements of the Center for E3’s work is to develop decision support tools for business and governments that enable them to use the latest technology and scientific data to adopt more sustainable policy solutions,” E3 Center Director John Quigley said. “This project, and related ongoing research, will enable the creation of new, powerful tools for communities to better manage their energy usage, carbon emissions, and improve public health.”

About Harrisburg University

Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Harrisburg University is a private non-profit university offering bachelor and graduate degree programs in science, technology, and math fields to a diverse student body. For more information on the University’s affordable demand-driven undergraduate and graduate programs, call 717.901.5146 or email, Connect@HarrisburgU.edu.

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