MP recently had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Georges Aoude, CEO and co-founder of Derq, where he leads the company’s vision and strategy, overall management, and business development efforts. Aoude holds a Ph.D. and MS in Aerospace Engineering from MIT, where he worked closely with NASA, US Navy, and Ford. His expertise includes autonomous and connected technologies and intelligent transportation systems. Aoude’s work has been published in leading academic journals and featured in global press outlets. Astronauts have also tested his space satellite research in the International Space Station collaborating with NASA. His inventions have been patented, and he founded Derq to commercialize them. He is a frequent speaker at AI, mobility, and smart city conferences, including CES and the World Economic Forum (WEF).  

What is Derq, and how is it unique? 

Derq is an MIT spinoff and leading artificial intelligence (AI) company for edge video analytics powering the future of roads for the safe and efficient movement of road users and autonomous vehicles (AVs). Derq built an award-winning platform powered by patented AI technologies and predictive analytics to help eliminate crashes, save lives, and create safer and smarter roadways. We have live deployments in the USA, Europe, and UAE, with forward-thinking cities and states including Michigan, Ohio, Nevada, and Dubai. Derq has also partnered with and trusted global mobility leaders, including Qualcomm, DENSO, Kapsch, and Motional.  

Our mission is to ultimately eliminate road fatalities by providing real-time, predictive analytics and situational awareness. Our analytics platform powers advanced solutions for connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) and traffic management, detecting, tracking, and classifying AVs and road users to predict their intent in real-time. According to NHTSA, more than 90% of all motor vehicle crashes are caused entirely or in part by human error. Using our patented technology, Derq provides cities and fleets with an AI platform that powers advanced analytics and CAV applications to help improve road safety and better manage traffic in hopes of eliminating traffic fatalities altogether. 

Why is an AI platform integrating existing traffic and sensor systems to power real-time advanced analytics and connected vehicle safety applications important? 

The ultimate goal of our AI platform is safety on the roadways for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists alike. AI leverages technology to prevent traffic collisions and even fatalities. Every city worldwide has a different type of traffic signal – horizontal, vertical, posted in the corner of an intersection as opposed to in the middle of the intersection, etc. AI algorithms unite roads, traffic lights, and signs built during a time when the thought of self-driving vehicles wasn’t an option. Integrating AI platforms with existing sensor systems unites smart infrastructure with connected and autonomous vehicles CAVs, enabling CAV deployments in new locations much faster. That same platform can analyze behavioral patterns of vehicles, pedestrians, and traffic flows from existing traffic infrastructure in real-time to identify and predict potential road incidents. 

What is smart infrastructure, and what benefits does it offer the public? 

Today, a clear technology gap needs to be filled in smart infrastructure technology. Traffic infrastructure technology has slowly evolved in the last decades compared to in-vehicle technologies. Smart infrastructure means more advanced hardware (e.g., traffic cameras, traffic radars, etc.) and software (e.g., video analytics, infrastructure-based collision avoidance systems, adaptive traffic signal algorithms, etc.). It has multiple benefits: it can enable eyes outside and away from vehicles, allowing greater visibility and safety overall. It can also allow for more efficient traffic systems, adjusting the lights based on traffic behaviors. These systems also provide real-time insights to the road owners and operators, supporting their investments for safer and smarter roadways for everyone. They can also enable connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs) and vulnerable road users to receive real-time alerts from traffic cameras and signals, reducing road crashes and fatalities. Many road agencies embrace the technology needed for smart infrastructure and are working with partners to help save lives and improve mobility for all road users. 

How is AI being used in smart infrastructure, and why does it matter? 

Advanced technologies, including video analytics solutions, use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning approaches to analyze large quantities of video streams in real-time to provide actionable insights on complex traffic situations, including road hazards, congestion, and traffic collisions.  

For example, companies like Derq provide software that analyzes behavioral patterns of vehicles, pedestrians, and traffic flows from existing traffic infrastructure in real-time to identify and predict potential road incidents. These advanced video analytics can then activate a pedestrian blinking sign to alert a distracted driver and prevent them from colliding with a pedestrian about to cross the road. They can also alert a city operator so emergency responders can be dispatched to the location of the incident if a collision is detected. Furthermore, real-time AI analytics provide additional context in the form of incident identification, near-miss heatmaps, and accurate traffic counts to traffic engineers and operators, which ultimately allows them to better understand traffic patterns and proactively improve the safety of roads. 

What privacy concerns surrounding smart infrastructure do you think are valid?

There is a concern that smart infrastructure translates into surveillance and thus invades privacy. Specifically, there is a concern around video analytics technology used for facial recognition applications in public safety use cases. While these concerns are legitimate, traffic safety applications only focus on improving safety and are designed to protect the individual's privacy. For example, Derq mainly uses existing camera feeds with resolution levels that don’t allow for personal identification. When dealing with newer cameras with higher resolution, they collaborate closely with the road agencies to ensure images are blurred and respect all local privacy rules and regulations.  

What is Vision Zero, and why is it important? 

Vision Zero is one of the newer strategies to eliminate deaths and severe injuries due to road traffic and unsafe infrastructure. First successfully implemented in parts of Europe, the strategy has now recently gained traction in North American cities, in part, due to the direction of the new administration. Vision Zero specializes in showing a different approach to traffic safety. It is much different from the traditional approach used today. It starts with the ethical belief that everyone deserves the right to experience safe roadway use, and it is the shared responsibility of policymakers, system designers, and technology experts to ensure safer roadways. 

Vision Zero is seeking to eliminate fatal and severe crashes. Do you think this is realistically possible in major US cities? 

Achieving zero fatalities in the US is the ultimate goal. Realistically, it will take time to get there. However, Vision Zero enables a new way of thinking to advance towards this ultimate goal and ensures that the good progress is made, measured, and celebrated. With system designers working together to create a smart infrastructure through the new strategy of Vision Zero, different aspects of the roads and traffic in the US will become safer. Another way Vision Zero differs from traditional approaches is by acknowledging the many factors that create safe mobility in communities. Collaborations are integral between traffic planners, engineers, and policymakers alike. Having all entities working together is necessary before the goal of Vision Zero can be accomplished.  

What three significant technological advances have helped move smart infrastructure over the past few years, and how do they directly impact everyday people?

Three significant advancements: AI, edge computing, and 5G.  

AI organizes enormous amounts of data, extracts critical insights, and predicts future behaviors in automated ways that were impossible before.  

When powered by 5G, edge computing allows these AI systems to run on the edge – on the roads (I.e., not on the cloud) with direct communication and very low latency between the AI systems and the end-users (e.g., pedestrians, vehicles).  

Together, AI and edge computing are the basis of smart infrastructure to make roads safer and smarter for everyone.

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