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Smart Cities: Where Human and Artifical Intelligence Meet

Learn how Richmond Hill is embracing the concept of a smart city through the City Rover Project.

Nestled in the center of Canada’s economic powerhouse, the Toronto Region, Richmond Hill has seamlessly woven technology into the fabric of its urban landscape, transforming the city into a dynamic and interconnected hub.

Richmond Hill leverages cutting-edge technologies to enhance quality of life, optimize resource management, and foster sustainable urban development. From intelligent city maintenance systems to academic partnerships, Richmond Hill embodies the true essence of a smart cities, where tech innovation converges with human diligence to create a harmonious business and living environment.

This effort is exemplified in Visual Defence’s CityROVER project, which revolutionized the use of AI cameras in Richmond Hill and around the world.

What is Visual Defence’s City Rover?

“Visual Defence has been based in Richmond Hill for over 25 years and started as a security company. We were one of the first companies to digitize CCTV and had several CCTV projects in major airports like Pearson, Heathrow in England, and Frankfurt in Germany,” said Roy Tal.

“Six years ago, we had a lot of cameras in a lot of different places and thought it would be more useful to understand what’s happening in the cameras, and that’s when artificial intelligence was first becoming accessible to the public, so we tapped into it early.”

One of the unique use cases Visual Defence identified was pothole detection. Richmond Hill was one of the first partners to utilize this new technology. Visual Defence added artificial intelligence capabilities to the cameras that go inside the city vehicles to detect potholes and other hazards in real-time. This eliminates the need for the city’s residents to report potholes, allowing them to be detected and fixed before they can become a safety concern.

Along with detecting safety hazards, Visual Defence’s City Rover creates reports and heatmaps to help the city organize and prioritize urban maintenance. “It’s an end-to-end process, the vehicle detects it, sends it to the cloud, creates a work order, and somebody goes to fix it,” said Tal.

Visual Defence TorontoGlobal RichmondHill
Depiction of Visual Defence’s CityROVER AI hazard detection.

The Toronto Region’s openness to tech innovation and government support made Richmond Hill the perfect launch pad to roll out such a project. “Toronto Region municipalities are some of the best to work with, they are very open to partnering with organizations like ours,” said Tal.

This speaks to Richmond Hill’s robust academic community that partners with businesses and government to create a seamless and efficient way of life for its residents.

“We met with Roy and his team to discuss some of the challenges we face as municipalities and how the work that Visual Defence is doing could support that, and that was really the start of the City Rover project,” said Anthony Ierullo, Director of Economic Development with the City of Richmond Hill.

“Richmond Hill was essentially the demonstration site for this product,” said Ierullo. “Our ability to demonstrate that this software had utility in the sector allowed it to grow.”

“Visual Defence’s City Rover is a great example of the public sector working with the private sector to advance thinking and open our lab, turning the municipality into a living lab to support innovative product delivery that not only benefits the business but also benefits the broader community at large,” said Ierullo.

In what other ways is Richmond Hill integrating technology?

smart cities

“What came out of this is that we saw ourselves (Richmond Hill) as an incubator for tech businesses,” said Ierullo.

After the success of partnering with Visual Defence, Richmond Hill saw a reciprocal opportunity for business and government. In 2020, the city held design competitions with local businesses to pitch products and grow the opportunity.

Richmond Hill went on to partner with OCAD University and Centennial College as part of the city’s Centre for Local Innovation and Collaboration (CLIC).

The goal of this partnership is to connect businesses with local academic institutions to address challenges and research solutions. CLIC has worked with over 40 businesses since 2021, developing businesses and tech innovation.

Connecting Human Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence of Smart Cities

“There are a lot of players in the incubator space, including well-known ones like VentureLab and York University’s YSpace, which are doing great things for the region. A gap we identified was addressing human-centered design,” said Ierullo.

CLIC has worked with several AI-centered businesses that rely on advanced technology and human interaction to elevate the process, merging cutting-edge tech and human creativity. One example is a customer service AI business that allows patrons to interact with an avatar to centralize call center interactions,  so staff can address broader concerns.

“It really reduces redundancy and waste, AI will not put people out of work, but it will change the way we work,” said Ierullo. “Just like any other transformative technology, there is an adjustment period and from that, new opportunities are being created.”

This sentiment is echoed in the outcomes of Visual Defence’s City Rover project. The City Rover detects four times the amount of urban disturbances as a person searching for potholes or fielding calls from city residents. As a result, city workers are free to use 100 per cent of their day planning and solving problems.

“This technology does not replace the job of inspectors, it takes the tedious tasks away so they can focus on the most pressing tasks,” said Tal. “People are good at solving problems, and what this technology does is it gives us time to do what we do best and removes the monotonous stuff like looking at the road for hours, creating a more sustainable way to run cities.”

For more information on Visual Defence visit

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