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Moscow to build on its smart city credentials

Moscow’s government is taking advantage of high penetration of broadband and mobile internet to expand innovative services under the Russian capital’s smart city programme.

Authorities began to look at what other cities are doing under their smart city programmes at the beginning of last year.

Eldar Tuzmukhametov, head of Moscow Smart City Lab, a division of the city government’s IT department, told Computer Weekly: “We thought we would be running substantially behind places like New York or Singapore, but it turned out that Moscow is doing rather well, and in just about all areas – from providing digital government services to the roll-out of intellectual transport systems.

“In fact, according to international consultancies such as KPMG and PwC, Moscow is in the top 10 [smart cities], alongside New York and Singapore.”

Tuzmukhametov said that thanks to a high penetration of internet use, demand for digital services in Moscow is high. “Russia has the cheapest mobile connection prices in Europe, and broadband access is also cheap,” he said. “So, we have very good penetration figures, with about 70% of residents using smartphones.”

Smart City Lab was established last year to keep track of what other major world cities are doing with the latest IT, making sure Moscow is not lagging behind. It also develops digital platforms for various municipal departments.

But the Russian capital got serious about innovative technology a little earlier, when Sergei Sobyanin was elected mayor in 2011. One of his first decrees stipulated the centralisation of Moscow’s IT function and interoperability of municipal IT systems.

Most IT for the city is outsourced, based on assignments and requirements developed by the city IT department, which is the second largest buyer of IT in Russia. In recent years, technology has mostly been provided by local companies, but Tuzmukhametov said some foreign technology is also in use. “IBM or Cisco do not provide any solutions directly, but some technology from them is part of what our suppliers develop,” he said.

The areas in which the city’s IT department does not outsource are artificial intelligence (AI) and big data, which are developed by the IT department’s in-house team.

For example, one AI project in progress internally is a system to support doctors. In the project, an AI-based system is fed thousands of X-rays and computed tomography scans of lungs – both healthy and with new growth. “The AI system can detect new growth with an 80% probability,” said Tuzmukhametov.

Similarly, the system can detect signs of arrhythmia and other heart conditions by analysing electrocardiograms.

The system will be integrated into a digital platform used by all Moscow clinics. “When a doctor receives the test results for a patient, they may be tired or they may not have had enough sleep, and they may miss, for instance, some new growth on the X-ray of a lung, but the AI system will draw the doctor’s attention to it,” said Tuzmukhametov.

Among the new technology Moscow already has in place is a speech recognition system for the municipal power company, which allows customers to use their voice to enter their electricity meter reading. Soon a new mobile app will be introduced, based on a chatbot, which will allow users to ask questions in chat mode.

The city’s power company is also rolling out an IoT-based control system for utility resources which will detect how much electricity, water and heating a building consumes. The system currently covers all the buildings housing government agencies, but it is expected to be rolled out to all residential buildings.

“Then, by using big data, it will be possible to determine, for instance, if an illegal enterprise is operating in the basement of a building,” said Tuzmukhametov. “Or, if the consumption of running water is unusually high, it is likely that many illegal residents are in that building.”

GPS tracking system

The Moscow power sector is not alone in harnessing IoT. Another programme using the technology was implemented for the GPS tracking of all municipal vehicles, including public transport, snow ploughs and street-cleaning vehicles.

But Tuzmukhametov is more low-key when it comes to blockchain technology, despite the hype. Blockchain has been all the rage in Russia since president Vladimir Putin announced at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in June that a digital economy should be the government’s top priority.

“We are waiting for blockchain productivity to increase,” said Tuzmukhametov. “The generation of unique codes is currently rather low.

“For instance, we have a system called Active Citizen for digital voting on issues related to the city. Using the system, within a few hours, up to 50,000 people can vote, but existing blockchain systems cannot cope with that load. As soon as it is feasible, we will use the technology.”

Meanwhile, the biggest challenge for Moscow Smart City Lab is to promote innovation and “explain how technology will improve people’s life rather than make it more complicated”, said Tuzmukhametov.

“When we launched our system for doctors which allows them to do all prescriptions and reporting digitally, we expected the speed of their work to double, but it actually declined within the first few weeks of the system’s test run,” he said. “We figured out that many doctors could not type properly on the computer keyboard, so we ran computer courses for them, and eventually the speed of their work reached the expected figures.”

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