With deepfakes, ChatGPT, and machine learning all hogging global headlines, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is dominating watercooler debate.

It’s also something our councils are showing an increasing interest in. And, for two NSW LGAs, something they’re already implementing – in an Australia-first trial rolling out AI on a state-wide scale.

A partnership with Asset AI

Asset AI is a project trialling the use of AI for maintaining road assets and operations. Launched in early 2022, the two-year trial started in two LGAs and will end in mid-2024 – before expanding to other local LGAs later that year.

Leading the project is Transport for NSW and the Institute of Public Works Australia (IPWEA). Together, they’re teaming up with two of our member councils – Griffith City and Canterbury-Bankstown – to experiment with the role of AI in road maintenance.

So how does it work? Every two weeks, public transport and council vehicles in Griffith City and Canterbury-Bankstown LGAs will take to the streets on their normal rounds.

Albeit with a new addition – cameras and sensors.

These devices will capture the state of the local roads: feeding information about potholes and cracks back to councils, via the Asset AI platform. AI’s role? Filtering and analysing that data to detect asset depreciation and defects, before they can cause damage to road users.

Prioritising the most pressing potholes

Like it already is in other industries, AI is automating manual processes and tasks – saving councils money, time, and resources.

Before AI, road defect checking for Griffith City Council was a time-consuming and resource-stretching affair. With over 4,000 kilometres of roads, road inspectors would have to drive about 60km/hour to ensure they cover all grounds – then stop every time they see a pothole to input that data manually.

Now, they can make use of council vehicles that are already doing regular rounds for other purposes, to collect data. Quickly and efficiently.

Besides identifying road issues, AI also allows councils to track road deterioration over time – and prioritise the most pressing issues to fix. By linking this defect information with council’s internal intervention levels and response times, council can quickly match against the road hierarchy ranking to establish a priority and issue work orders for repairs.

Bin there, done that: Canterbury-Bankstown’s other AI project

Canterbury-Bankstown is participating in the Asset AI trial – but this isn’t the LGA’s first brush with AI.

In fact, the technology is already fuelling a bid to improve the council’s approach to waste management.

To help reduce its recycling contamination rate (which, at 30%, was the highest in NSW), the council had installed high-resolution cameras and GPS systems in its garbage trucks to detect and report contaminants at the source.

But the process was still lacking – so the team introduced AI into the equation and started scanning each recycling bin for contaminants as it was tipped into the truck.

The result? Ease. Efficiency. Expediency.

Canterbury-Bankstown’s use of AI will simplify truck drivers’ jobs, streamline data collection, and improve the quality and targeting of the council’s recycling education campaigns.

It also means that, while it once took councils five years to look at everyone’s bins, they’ll now be able to do all this – in just two weeks.

Adapting and automating: the future of AI for councils

Going forward, AI is set to be a rich, fertile ground of opportunity for councils.

With accurate, real-time data enabling more incisive, informed insights, AI can help councils make better decisions. Automate laborious manual processes. And improve the speed, efficiency, and quality of services to the communities they serve.

The only potential drawback? That, with greater knowledge of road defects, councils’ ability to defend against complaints and civil suits may be impacted.

It’s not yet clear how the use of AI will impact the use of Section 45 of the Civil Liability Act in case defences. But ultimately, AI can enable councils to be more proactive in managing their road network and assets – rather than reactive.

For our part, we’re excited to see more NSW councils actively seeking out more information about AI, and staying hungry about what it can offer. And we’ll continue to be here, supporting our members as they harness technology to propel their people and processes into the future.

Watching this space – together!

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