Using tech to keep Amsterdam clean and safe

Several municipalities in the Netherlands, including Amsterdam, have worked together to create the Object Detection Kit, a new system capable of detecting urban problems like graffiti, trash and broken traffic lights so they can be dealt with in a timely manner. The new system, which was released as open source software on 4 March, records and analyses real-time imagery collected from the city streets.

Though applications like Google Street View already capture street-level imagery, there can be long gaps between updates, making them impractical for dealing with the day-to-day issues affecting urban environments. The new system also avoids problems that can occur when relying solely on citizens to voice concerns, including underreporting that can lead to some neighbourhoods receiving lower levels of attention. By ensuring challenges are dealt with expediently, the Object Detection Kit also prevents small nuisances from turning into serious ones.

Amsterdam canal rooftop view Cecile Obertop

Gathering real-time data with smartphones

The Object Detection Kit app is operated through a smartphone which is placed in a holder on a car dashboard and plugged into a socket to prevent power loss. At first, the vehicles used to scan the streets will be city-owned cars going about their normal business, including garbage trucks and police vehicles. 

A sticker on each car will let the public know why the streets are being scanned and where they can find more information online. The system can also be expanded to allow volunteers to use the Object Detection Kit in their own cars. 

In the future, data gathered through the Object Detection Kit may be used in different fields, including urban studies and criminology, and will also serve as a source of archival information about Amsterdam during the time period it was collected. To ensure privacy, potentially sensitive images, like faces and license plates, will be filtered out. 

Since the Object Detection Kit software is open source, it’s free to reuse. Currently, the project is looking for startups that can help it further develop and expand to other cities. Interested parties can reach out through the official website or email Joël Dori, StartupAmsterdam’s startup liaison and project manager, for more information.

Read more startup news from around Amsterdam.