Wednesday , June 26 2019
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Mobile gaming company aiming to transform Auckland – and help you catch your bus on time

  • Auckland Transport has had a new ‘command centre’ developed to track and display a real-time overview of their public transport infrastructure.
  • Consumer applications will allow Aucklanders to track exactly where their bus, train, or ferry is, and greatly improve the rider experience.
  • Technology and real-time data is now at the stage where it is set to transform the way we live in cities, in ways that could never before have been imagined.

“You could run the entire country in real-time. A country and all its citizens can interact with everything connected to the internet inside that country.” – Gabriel Leydon

“The government is about to become an app store.” An unusual prediction, but one that made a lot of sense in the context of the preceding 30 minutes of discussion on the Real-Time Analytics panel at the Tripartite Summit 2016.

The comment came from Gabriel Leydon, CEO of MZ (short for ‘Machine Zone’), a company known throughout Silicon Valley for its smartphone games but which is working on something rather different in New Zealand.

MZ has been developing a new ‘command centre’ for Auckland Transport. All of AT’s buses will be tracked and displayed: “a real-time view of every single bus on the road, down to the second.”

Variables such as the number of buses, riders, occupancy rates, and route utilisation are all displayed. This means that errors, such as a bus going off-route, can be detected in real-time and rectified more swiftly, improving the rider experience.

Accompanying the command centre will be a consumer application (which Leydon expects will be released this summer) that will allow Aucklanders to track exactly where their bus (or train, or ferry) is at any point in time.

For those frustrated by unnecessary waits at the bus stop for late buses, this could be a game-changer. For those who are prone to running late themselves, now they can check whether it’s worth running for their bus – or waiting at home until the next one is set to arrive instead.

And for the budget-conscious ratepayer, the command centre may be music to the ears. Various agencies run fleets of buses for different regions within Auckland; the command centre provides data on how each agency is performing, raising accountability.

“Auckland now has the most advanced transport monitoring system in the world,” declares Leydon.

But for MZ, this seems to simply be a small-scale pilot of a much broader initiative. “You could run the entire country in real-time,” says Leydon. “A country and all its citizens can interact with everything connected to the internet inside that country.”

The factors driving this trend include the standardisation of government data feeds, technology that improves the speed with which those data feeds can be absorbed, and the ability to to write artificial intelligence and real-time search for that data.

Scale is key: “The current capacity of what it would take to run a few million users and the entire public transportation system is less than one percent of what we’re capable of,” says Leydon. “We’re able to condense extremely large scale systems down to a single data feed, where it’s easily manageable and you can build applications around it.”

What does Leydon’s vision look like? A command centre – and user-facing applications – for everything from the police and ambulances to garbage services. Think notifications for when the garbage truck is almost at your house, for example.

And the expansion of this initiative is not just confined to industries and utilities, but is geographic too. Leydon sees that as the logical next step. “We’re going to take that to the rest of the country,” he promised. “It will affect absolutely everything. There isn’t anything it won’t affect.”

“This is what Machine Zone’s ultimate goal of working with New Zealand is: we would like to create a firehose of everything in New Zealand, everything going on. And we would provide an application platform where people can build applications around the totality of the data happening inside the country.”

If – or perhaps Leydon would say when – such wholesale digitisation takes hold, the role of government may well be transformed, or more accurately, refined. First, government may have to facilitate the development of such a “firehose” of data by legally requiring certain operators to collect and contribute data.

As Leydon sees it, government would then have a role in publishing the data, which would “unlock the creativity of the engineers around the world to create efficiencies that government just can’t create.”

More significantly, Leydon sees government being able to focus resources more closely on social services. “A lot of government could be reduced down to algorithms and bots,” predicts Leydon. “Which is really positive, because we could focus a lot of our money on social services.”

One mobile gaming finance blog, GloMo Investing, recently made the case that MZ is worth around USD$9bn.

The fact that the CEO of a company that is even being talked about in such terms is focusing so much of his energy developing a divergent initiative in New Zealand is telling: real-time data could be set to transform our cities in ways we never imagined; Auckland could be the pioneer.

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