The system cleaning up Zurich’s streets

Trash management is an issuing authority constantly face as cities strive to keep their streets clean. Switzerland is known for being “stereotypically tidy,” but cities still have to determine how much time—and where—to invest in sanitation. A new digital system that counts and categorizes trash may help solve urban sanitation issues throughout Switzerland. Zurich, the country’s largest city and a global center for finance, is looking to transition to a Clean City Index system that could save time and money, replacing the current inspection system performed on foot.- Bruno De Man


Smart sweeping

Zurich is already known as a city of green architecture, with smart building management systems that feature interconnected heating and electricity systems that have helped reduce CO2 emissions while incorporating the natural environment. With the introduction of “Green City,” the new 8-hectare district in the south, Zurich will offer its first 2,000-Watt site-certified district, where 100 percent of its energy will be generated from renewable sources. The smart grid-controlled electricity is helping to prevent waste in one sense, but now the city is looking to reduce rubbish with another type of smart system. The Signal Processing Laboratory 5 (LTS5) at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) has teamed up with Swiss start-up Cortexia to develop a computer programme dedicated to cleaning up cities. According to SWI, “The project participants hope that the Clean City Index will yield environmental and economic benefits in Switzerland and abroad by providing an objective understanding of urban cleanliness…and helping cities to use time and finances more efficiently when it comes to cleaning up.”

The project’s design is simple: a video camera connected to a laptop is attached to slow-moving vehicles like street sweepers, bikes and buses. The computer runs a machine-learning algorithm that can detect up to 40 types of waste—some as small as 2 centimeters. Once the apparatus is mounted on a vehicle, it can analyse images of trash along the road while operating at speeds up to 20 kilometers per hour, counting everything from chewing gum to cans before transmitting information back to authorities. Once this information is collected and stored in Cortexia’s Clean City Index, cities can look at this data and decide which streets to clean and how often. At the moment, pilot projects are rolling out on a bike in Zurich, on cars in Lausanne, and on street sweepers in Geneva and Fribourg. With this technology, cities like Zurich can determine which parts of town are most in need of sanitation resources and how to efficiently delegate clean-up efforts in a manner that will save both time and money in the long run while making streets as spotless as possible.