Author(s): Raghu Gopal
Last week, Alphabet, the parent company of Google, acquired Urban Engines, a big-data start-up that specializes in using location analytics that can be used for smart urban planning.
Founded in 2014, Urban Engines focusses on route analytics for urban planning, delivery, and commuting. The firm says it has developed a "space-time engine" it calls Warp that pieces together information from commuters and vehicles using complex algorithms and cloud computing. For example, Urban Engines says it uses what-if scenarios to reconstruct the flow of information from millions of trips people make each day, analyse and provide practical data. Over the years, the space-time engine has analysed billions of journeys and improved the lives of millions of commuters in several cities.
During the past decade, the tools of urban planners have expanded to include sensors such as beacons and computer vision, providing officials with vast amounts of data. City planners in large metropolitan areas now have detailed information on pedestrian and vehicle traffic, but it takes advanced analytical tools to form the collection into practical advice. Companies such as Urban Engines can sift through the data to improve a city's transportation system and public spaces.
For Alphabet, Urban Engines provides additional data that can be tied into Google Maps to improve information about traffic flows, including predictive patterns of congestion. This will also provide more intelligence for the company's autonomous driving unit. Alphabet has big plans in participating in building smarter cities.