Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence is chang­ing the face of Gaut­eng

Public Sector Manager - - Feature -

Of­ten syn­ony­mous with Hol­ly­wood block­buster movies and tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments of a dis­tant fu­ture, drones have shaken off stereo­typ­i­cal thoughts that they only be­long on the big screen. Th­ese eyes in the sky are fast emerg­ing as tools that are trans­form­ing the de­liv­ery of ser­vices to Gaut­eng res­i­dents.

Re­cently, drone tech­nol­ogy be­came a very real part of the lives of the province's cit­i­zens, through a part­ner­ship formed be­tween the pro­vin­cial De­part­ment of In­fra­struc­ture De­vel­op­ment (DID) and the Uni­ver­sity of Johannesburg.

The part­ner­ship has re­sulted in the con­struc­tion of crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture such as schools, clin­ics, hos­pi­tals and li­braries be­ing mon­i­tored by the use of a drone.

Lever­ag­ing the use of tech­nol­ogy

Head of De­part­ment at the DID, Bethuel Net­shiswinzhe, be­lieves that through the use of drones, gov­ern­ment is lever­ag­ing the use of tech­nol­ogy, es­pe­cially that re­lated to the Fourth In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion, to de­liver in­fra­struc­ture in a smart and ef­fi­cient man­ner.

The built en­vi­ron­ment is still largely a tra­di­tional in­dus­try, which one might still be for­given for as­so­ci­at­ing with the Stone Age era of the Flint­stones. Just ask Gaut­eng MEC for In­fra­struc­ture De­vel­op­ment Ja­cob Mam­abolo.

“Although it dates back to the days be­fore the build­ing of the Egyp­tian pyra­mids, it still re­mains as one of the most Dark Age meth­ods and has not yet come to where the world is to­day,” he said.

So what do drones and con­struc­tion sites have to do with each an­other? In May, it was an­nounced that the DID was de­ploy­ing the drone pro­gramme as a tool to mon­i­tor progress at con­struc­tion sites.

This es­sen­tially lim­ited the sin­gle drone to giv­ing the de­part­ment a snap­shot of the site which en­abled of­fi­cials to ver­ify in­de­pen­dently whether work is con­tin­u­ing, that ma­te­rial is on site and that the con­trac­tor ad­heres to

oc­cu­pa­tional health and safety stan­dards on site.

While still in its youth, the part­ner­ship be­tween the DID and UJ has been re­fined in re­cent months, with the de­part­ment re­al­is­ing that there is an op­por­tu­nity to har­vest more data than the hun­dreds of high im­ages cap­tured by drones.

Virtual tours

Com­monly known as drones, un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles (UAVs) boast top-class tech­nolo­gies with sim­ple flight con­trols.

Through the part­ner­ship, of­fi­cials can now take a virtual tour through the con­struc­tion site without hav­ing to leave the com­fort of their of­fices.

“I can be sit­ting in the of­fice and walk through the con­struc­tion site, without me need­ing to be there and see the mile­stones reached on site and without hav­ing to drive there,” re­marked a clearly chuffed MEC Mam­abolo.

A demon­stra­tion of how the process is car­ried out also shows how, through the use of tech­nol­ogy, of­fi­cials can ac­cu­rately mea­sure quan­ti­ties of ma­te­ri­als on site – in this case at the Greenspark Clinic, which is cur­rently un­der con­struc­tion in Fochville – without hav­ing to phys­i­cally visit the project.

Among the ground­break­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties that this col­lab­o­ra­tion has brought to the fore is the abil­ity to reg­u­larly mon­i­tor progress on site as it re­lates to ar­chi­tec­tural draw­ings, an ex­tremely im­por­tant fea­ture as it em­pow­ers DID to de­tect any vari­a­tions from the plans.

This is cru­cial es­pe­cially in con­tain­ing cost es­ca­la­tions and guar­an­tee­ing that a project will be de­liv­ered in ac­cor­dance with the plans.

Di­rec­tor of UJ's Cen­tre for Ap­plied Re­search and In­no­va­tion in the Built En­vi­ron­ment, Pro­fes­sor In­no­cent Mu­sonda, be­lieves it is now pos­si­ble to process pho­to­graphs taken by the “staff” com­ple­ment of five drones to gen­er­ate both 2D and 3D mod­els.

“We can check where in­for­ma­tion claimed by con­trac­tors is there or not there,” said Prof. Mu­sonda, adding that pic­tures from the drones are ex­ported to soft­ware which over­lays what was ini­tially imag­ined to be con­structed and com­pares them for vari­a­tions.

Mea­sur­ing sup­plies

In ad­di­tion to be­ing able to ac­cu­rately mea­sure sup­plies such as sand on site, the tech­nol­ogy makes it pos­si­ble to track ma­te­rial sup­pli­ers for main­te­nance pur­poses, al­low­ing the de­part­ment to keep tabs of which sec­tors of the econ­omy are ben­e­fit­ing from the in­puts into built projects.

The ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the pro­gramme will dras­ti­cally re­duce scope vari­a­tions, the shift­ing of mile­stones which de­lays ser­vice de­liv­ery and leaves state cof­fers bleed­ing, and cor­rup­tion and fraud­u­lent ac­tiv­i­ties which have marred the in­dus­try.

The tech­nol­ogy also helps the de­part­ment to con­duct qual­ity checks dur­ing the con­struc­tion process, as op­posed to dis­cov­er­ing vari­a­tions only once the project has been com­pleted.

The use of this tech­nol­ogy no doubt speaks to the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan's out­come six of an ef­fi­cient, com­pet­i­tive and re­spon­sive eco­nomic in­fra­struc­ture net­work.This in­fra­struc­ture, it notes, ef­fi­ciently de­liv­ers es­sen­tials like elec­tric­ity, wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion.

Track­ing progress

The MEC is acutely aware that, in past projects, it was claimed that ac­tiv­i­ties were tak­ing place on site when in real­ity very lit­tle work, if any, was tak­ing place on the ground.Through the use of smart tech­nol­ogy, the de­part­ment is track­ing progress made on a fort­nightly ba­sis to en­sure that tar­gets are reached.

A con­stant bug­bear of the sec­tor re­lates to the timeous de­liv­ery of in­fra­struc­ture, within bud­get and with the de­sired qual­ity.

Fur­ther adding fuel to the fire in an in­dus­try that con­tin­ues to be de­pressed are the of­ten flawed

ten­der pro­cesses where com­pa­nies ten­der­ing for projects sub­mit the low­est price bids. Af­ter se­cur­ing the ten­der, th­ese com­pa­nies then in­tro­duce scope changes that will even­tu­ally drive up the cost of the project.

Cer­tainly one drone at a time is chang­ing the way in which the de­part­ment is de­liv­er­ing on its projects, ul­ti­mately mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in the lives of cit­i­zens.

With the help of this tech­nol­ogy, the de­part­ment is able to keep tabs on its spread of 340 projects val­ued at around R4.5 bil­lion, of which R1.7 bil­lion has been al­lo­cated for the 2018/19 fi­nan­cial year.

New ca­pa­bil­i­ties

“We are try­ing to im­prove our work and th­ese new ca­pa­bil­i­ties are an im­por­tant as­pect of our sys­tem­atic and con­tin­ued de­ter­mi­na­tion to root out cor­rup­tion,” said MEC Mam­abolo, who also spoke out against the abuse of scope changes.

Tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment which was once thought to be a fig­ment of movie mak­ers, scripts and imag­i­na­tion have come to life, fun­da­men­tally chang­ing the way the world ad­dresses its chal­lenges.

“Dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence are not the fu­ture any­more; they are the present. They have taken off. What we are do­ing now is just the tip of the ice­berg in terms of what we can achieve. We are liv­ing in very ex­cit­ing times,” said Prof. Mu­sonda.

Pro­fes­sor Mur­ray Met­calfe of the Cen­tre for Global En­gi­neer­ing at­tests that there is a huge op­por­tu­nity for sub-Sa­ha­ran African coun­tries to bet­ter them­selves through the use of tech­nol­ogy.

“We see this fer­tile com­bi­na­tion of the use of tech­nol­ogy, strong en­gi­neer­ing schools, very en­tre­pre­neur­ial en­vi­ron­ment and the po­ten­tial growth of the econ­omy given pro­jected growth of the pop­u­la­tions, par­tic­u­larly in cities.”

“We see all those things cre­at­ing an op­por­tu­nity to leapfrog ahead from a tech­no­log­i­cal point of view, to by­pass a num­ber of is­sues with other world cities and to move to a new unique African form of a city to be de­fined by Africans.”

Ben­e­fit­ing com­mu­ni­ties

Ac­knowl­edg­ing that tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments of­ten face re­jec­tion by com­mu­ni­ties fear­ing a loss of jobs, th­ese ad­vance­ments can be used to the ben­e­fit of com­mu­ni­ties.

“Cer­tainly in gen­eral, peo­ple are hes­i­tant re­gard­ing change, par­tic­u­larly around is­sues of pri­vacy and ac­cess to per­sonal data; we see that in Canada also. How­ever, there is great ev­i­dence that there will be other new types of in­dus­tries that will re­quire greater hu­man en­deav­our than it has in the past, while some tasks may be au­to­mated with the use of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence.

“There will be other things hav­ing to do with the ad­vance­ment of hu­man life, of re­search into health­care and so­cial ser­vices. Cer­tainly there are great op­por­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges,” he said.

While the 2001 block­buster A.I. Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence was set in a post-cli­mate change era in the fu­ture, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence has ar­rived and is chang­ing the world as we know it one drone at a time.

“We are try­ing to im­prove our work and th­ese new ca­pa­bil­i­ties are an im­por­tant as­pect to our

sys­tem­atic and con­tin­ued de­ter­mi­na­tion to root out cor­rup­tion.”

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