Just how smart is Sony's AI?

Sony Europe teamed up with Italian energy company Envision to run “smart city” trials in Rome. When all the pieces of the three trials are connected, this project’s goal is to cut down on traffic gridlock, reduce pollution, keep pedestrians safe, and also avoid overcrowding on Rome’s public busses. How will it work? Let’s take a look. 

The trials revolve around Sony’s IMX500 image sensors, which the company says have artificial intelligence processing functionality baked in. That, Sony is quick to say, means the images captured never leave those sensors, thus alleviating possible privacy concerns. It’s unclear how possible it might be for unscrupulous actors to access and retrieve data from those sensors, but since we’re not AIApart, we’ll let someone else explore that avenue.  

At any rate, Envision is using these sensors to run three separate trials. One will monitor open parking spaces in real time, and will then notify drivers via a smartphone app where open parking spots exist. This should theoretically cut down on the time drivers spend searching fruitlessly for open parking spaces.  

Another trial will use these sensors in smart bus shelters which monitor how many people get on and off busses in real time. The data—not the images, but the head counts—will be relayed back to the public transit system, so bus scheduling can be more closely aligned with ridership. This way, the public transit system can hopefully avoid overcrowding. 

The final trial will be used to notify drivers when pedestrians are in crosswalks, and will activate low-latency smart lighting to more brightly illuminate the pedestrians so drivers can see them. The intention here, of course, is to help road traffic avoid crashing into pedestrians. 

Regarding the parking space trial, it’s unclear whether these sensors are attuned to motorcycles and scooters. If so, will they easily be able to differentiate between parking spaces that can fit those vehicles, which are much smaller than cars? Cars come in different sizes, as well, so will they also be monitoring to see the difference between, say, a Smart ForTwo and a Bentley Mulsanne? Also, since distracted driving and riding is a serious problem, will the smartphone app give an audio alert to notify drivers and/or riders when a parking space is found, like your GPS giving you audio turn-by-turn instructions?  

In any case, these trials are set to begin sometime in June, 2021. It’s unclear how long they’re intended to run, but it will be interesting to see the results. Hopefully, at least some of these questions will be answered when results are published in the future. 

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