China's Xiongan New Area project, near Beijing, is part of the central government's ambitious drive to lead in new technologies like AI and 5G communication. Woven City, near Japan's Mount Fuji, is a much smaller project -- just 175 acres -- that is being led not by the government, but by one of its leading industrial giants, Toyota Motor Corp. If the U.S. were to build a similar prototype city, it would need to invest or direct billions of dollars in advanced technologies like 5G, vehicle-to-vehicle communication, electric charging infrastructure and vehicle automation in an area with a high population density. My thought bubble: Why not San Juan, Puerto Rico? Yes, but: Puerto Rican residents have to want to be test subjects, notes Michelle Avary, head of autonomous mobility at the World Economic Forum.
An open-source disaster response tool that uses visual recognition and learns through artificial intelligence and cloud tools began as an idea that a self-taught developer had at IBM's Call for Code hackathon in Puerto Rico last year. IBM announced DroneAid on Oct. 2 as an open-source project through Code and Response, the company's $25 million program dedicated to the creation and deployment of open-source solutions tackling real-world problems. DroneAid uses visual recognition technology to detect and count SOS icons on the ground gleaned from drone video streams and automatically plots the emergency needs on a map for first responders. Developer Pedro Cruz had planned to use optical character recognition to detect messages, but reading different handwriting and languages complicated that approach. Instead, the tool relies on a subset of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs' 500 humanitarian icons – symbols that DroneAid can learn and first responders can quickly understand.
Pedro Cruz didn't just live through the wreckage that Hurricane Maria left in its path in Puerto Rico back in 2017. He watched the commotion in his hometown of San Juan by flying his drone overhead. Maria made landfall on the southeast part of the island around 8 p.m., Cruz recalls in an interview with Popular Mechanics. Once the storm subsided about 20 hours later, he began his mission to find his grandmother. Since the infrastructure was completely decimated, he had no cell phone service to check in on her.
The FCC granted Alphabet's Project Loon, which delivers internet via balloons, an experimental license last month to help get Puerto Ricans online after Hurricane Maria decimated the island's infrastructure. While the team cautiously tweeted that it would'explore of it was possible to help,' Project Loon announced today that it has worked with AT&T and T-Mobile to successfully deliver basic internet to over 100,000 Puerto Ricans to the internet. Since turning on service, #ProjectLoon has delivered basic internet connectivity to more than 100K people in Puerto Rico. It's not a total success, which isn't to be expected after Puerto Ricans' communications infrastructure suffered so much damage. But the team was able to work with AT&T and T-Mobile to get "communication and internet activities like sending text messages and accessing information online for some people with LTE enabled phones," head of Project Loon Alastair Westgarth wrote in a blog post.
It's been over six weeks since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, leaving millions without power or access to reliable communication. The hurricane damaged the above-ground fiber lines that connect towers to the main network, too. AT&T, for example, is using stop-gap measures like portable cell towers on trucks to help get the network back up, and says that 70 percent of the population there is now covered by their network. And then there are the balloons. Alphabet, Google's parent company and the tech giant responsible for the balloons, calls the endeavor an "experimental technology."
In case you've been hanging out with the technology groundhog in its cave: we're in the midst of an AI spring. The past two years have seen a resurgence in excitement around our ability to model human-like intelligence in computer algorithms. This excitement has a number of catalysts, not least of which is the enabled application of deep neural networks to a multitude of fields by the advancement of Moore's law. For the average person, the AI spring is a period of unbridled excitement: your iPhone will transcribe your voicemails so you don't have to lift the phone to your ear, Facebook will translate the posts of the friends you made during that one summer in college in Puerto Rico, and your Alexa can tell you interesting trivia about Star Wars. But the life of a startup CEO is not so simple.