QROWD is a pioneering initiative exploiting the potential of cross-sectoral Big Data integration and analysis to improve transportation and mobility across European cities. It aims to make transport smarter by leveraging the human factor: smarter transport, smarter cities. To do this, QROWD and project partners – such as TomTom and ATOS – have together developed a range of innovative products and services that are trailblazing a crowdsourced, smarter future.
But, in order to understand why these kinds of developments are groundbreaking, a more detailed look under the hood of the project is needed. In this six-part series we invite you to join us in discussing the experiences of members of our team. They will show you how our project works, demonstrate its value, and explain their own expert and unique experiences behind the initiative. So, let’s listen to some voices from the QROWD.
In this article we will talk to Professor Elena Simperl of the University of Southampton, and managing director of the project itself. In a recent interview she explains that “for me the project was always about the interface between people and technology. Using online volunteer data, data science and AI to build new products and services at this interface you have a whole range of socio-technical challenges.”
“You have questions around usability and user experience. You have legal and ethical questions, especially when you ask people to give you their data to train algorithms, but you also have some very interesting fundamental computational challenges because you need to have an understanding of the quality of the inputs that people around the world will give you. You need to understand whether people will agree on an answer or not, to understand how to predict their behaviours, and how much data is actually needed.”
“It should look to a certain degree like like a machine: an artificial intelligence system where the intelligence comes mostly from the people – and is people driven – but nevertheless there is that mechanical element where someone who is using this hybrid system is able to say well, this is what I want. These are the things that I need to consider. Some of them are technical or not. But once I have configured that system, I would also want to get an understanding with could provide.”
Professor Simperl goes on to detail that the area of smart transport and mobility seemed like a natural focus for the QROWD project given the range of project partners, their expertise, and a wave of research interest emerging from new smart cities and their potential. Smart mobility was general enough to hook into existing online crowdsourcing, while also leveraging a gap in the research market that the team had identified throughout previous projects.
“The research area and the data were important” she adds, “but the human-centric feedback of what the project is doing is also extremely important. We’ve worked with lots of cities, municipalities and stakeholders who were really sort of surprised at just how valuable human input is and they felt that it really helps. Throughout the entire project we’ve kept humans in-the-loop as the name suggests.”
“There was constant feedback that the QROWD team were able to use to tailor our services. It also shaped and improved even small things like how we exhibited at conferences and events, or how we explained to the users updates. This lead to partners, for example the municipality of Trento, developing a close relationship with their citizens that ultimately underpinned the success of our services. That actually showed a level of human-orientated investment that I had personally not seen in previous projects like this before, and I think that that is one of the reasons that everyone was so invested – partners and citizens alike.”
Alongside the human-approach Professor Simperl also highlights the importance of interdisciplinarity to the project’s success. Naturally, with a large team comprised of partners across Europe, each were able to bring unique expertise to the table in forming the project products and services. The differences between individuals working on the project was consistently taken into account, resulting in good communication and coordination.
The role of digital citizenship and data sustainability in model citizen participation are also important areas, especially for smart cities across Europe. She explains that there is “still a lot of work to be done when it comes to transferring some of the interdisciplinary knowledge, but I think in the UK perhaps more than other European countries, there is investment in digital infrastructure and there’s investment development data, perhaps not uniformly at every administrative level – but nevertheless transferring the associates.”
As the project enters its final few months, Professor Simperl comments on the future of smart mobility research “I always think what would I do if I would have six more months or twelve more months of the project then and I think in this case, what I would like to try to do is to have an eater integration of of different types of collective intelligence say at the moment. We use a lot of different types of feedback and we do a lot to orchestrate that information into the system. What I would like to have is something where the system almost self-organizes.”
“If you think about where the technology is going, and if you believe that every individual on Earth would need to or would have the right to have the skills to train their own AI algorithms that will define whether they get invited to a job interview, or whether they get into University etc. The future is something where people will want to label, to have control over how their data or data about them is labeled, and what that will do in a crowd sourcing context and not in a mediated way like we do the moment. That’s a vision that would probably take more than 12 months, but nevertheless I think it’s a very exciting area.”