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GPS bike-share program in China credited with reducing gridlock and smog

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The smog hangs thick over Beijing. It’s a brownish haze with a vaguely smoky smell, shrouding lanes of traffic and pedestrians wearing face masks.

The main culprits are nearby steel factories and coal-burning heating plants. But the city’s five million cars add much to the toxic mix, creating air that’s frequently rated “hazardous” by the World Air Quality Index Project.

“Traffic jams don’t just block the streets,” said one woman named Li. “They block the air.”

Now a partial solution may be riding to the rescue on two wheels.

Since the beginning of last year, Chinese cities have been awash with 23 million GPS-equipped bicycles, part of a bike share program that has been credited with changing traffic patterns across the country and reviving a mode of transportation that was fading fast.

Research by the China Institute of Information and Communications Technology (CIICT) revealed that on one day last year, the system logged 70 million riders — three to four rides per bike.

According to mapping industry studies here, the program has reduced inner-city car trips by 7.4 per cent in some areas and 3.8 per cent of total car trips in these cities.

“For years, we thought the way to cut traffic congestion in Beijing was to build more roads and parking lots,” said Zhao Yixin, a planner with the Urban Transportation Institute who advises the city government. “We learned that doesn’t work. There’s always more cars and more traffic.”

“But these bicycles are actually having an impact,” he said.

‘Convenient’ and ‘good for the environment’

This isn’t the first bike sharing project in China. Several years ago, it introduced a variety of dock-based systems, which were rarely used. There weren’t enough bikes or docks, and in cities with upwards of 10 million people, the docks were rarely in places people needed them most.

Chinese cities have witnessed an influx of 23 million GPS-equipped bicycles, part of a bike share program credited with changing traffic patterns across the country. (Saša Petricic/CBC)

By the time this latest system was introduced, bike ridership in Beijing (which has 22 million people) was at an all-time low and dropping.

This, in a city where bikes ruled just a few decades ago.

The new, technologically driven system was pioneered by students at Peking University looking for a cheap and convenient way of getting around. They wanted one that allows users to mix public transit and bikes, even opening up the city’s maze of hutongs, the narrow back alleys of Beijing’s traditional neighbourhoods.

Unlike common bike share programs in Western cities, this new Chinese system doesn’t use docking stations. Instead, the bikes can be picked up and dropped off pretty much anywhere — from subway stops to office buildings to the rider’s front door.

A phone app scans the bike’s bar code and a signal releases the lock remotely. Each bike has a GPS tracker, so companies know where every rider goes. The standard cost is about 20 cents an hour.

Riders lining up to pick up the colourful bikes outside Beijing’s Dongdaqiao station say the main draw is exactly what those original students intended.

“The bikes are cheap and they are everywhere,” said one young man. “So I didn’t have to buy one myself.”

“It’s convenient for me and good for the environment,” said a woman through her face mask.

According to Chinese research, the new bike share program reduced carbon dioxide emissions by about four million tonnes last year, roughly the equivalent of taking 900,000 cars off the road. (Saša Petricic/CBC)

One of the major shared bike companies, Didi Chuxing, said its marketing surveys show that helping the environment is a big motivation for users. That’s especially true among those under 30, who make up half the ridership for shared bikes, said Fu Qiang, the company’s senior vice-president.

“People in China are worried about the air and their living conditions, and they are more and more willing to make an effort to improve the environment,” he said.

According to CIICT research, this bike share program reduced carbon dioxide emissions by about four million tonnes last year. That would be the equivalent of taking more than 900,000 cars off the road.

Smaller-scale studies done on local bike share programs in North American and European cities have suggested similar benefits, but none on this scale.

Some growing pains

The GPS-based technology is now spreading to other parts of the world, like the U.S. and Britain. It’s expected to be widely available in Canada within the next several years.

But there have been growing pains. Some in China have called the bike phenomenon nothing less than an “invasion” and a “plague.”

The convenience of leaving the bikes anywhere means they are left everywhere — on people’s doorsteps, in front of entranceways and in the middle of the road.

Two hundred Chinese cities have struggled to make room for the machines and bring order to the chaos on their sidewalks. As competing companies flood the market with their bikes, pedestrians frequently need to pick their way around rows or mounds of thousands of tightly packed bicycles.

Some cities have responded by literally bulldozing them out of the way and into landfill sites. Pictures and videos of huge mounds of colourful bikes have sparked heated discussion online in China.

Some Chinese cities have responded to piles of discarded rented bikes by literally bulldozing them out of the way and into landfill sites. (Reuters)

The cities of Shanghai and Beijing have tightened rules about where the bikes can be left, making the companies responsible for redistributing them every day, or giving riders incentives to leave the bikes in a more orderly way in designated spots.

There have been problems on the roads as well. As recently as the 1980s, Beijing was a city with broad side streets famously dedicated to bicycle traffic. But over time, these have been taken over by cars, forcing bikes to weave dangerously through the gridlock.

“We need to reclaim these spaces,” said city planner Zhao, who suggested removing cars that park everywhere and routinely use lanes designed for two wheels, not four.

He says Beijing intends to block off entire roads just for bicycles all over again. Didi Chuxing, the bike sharing company, has recommended special bike signs for traffic lights at major intersections.

There are limitations to how far this can go. In China, as in most places, bikes are most useful for short distances and in relatively good weather. Flat cities like Beijing have an advantage.

Still, experts like Zhao consider China’s experience “inspiring” and a welcome surprise in the way technology has changed how people use old, familiar green vehicles to displace the environmentally unfriendly car.

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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