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Startup of the Year, Qlue Smart City, is determined to change Indonesia for the better
The high-tech cities of the future have captured people’s imaginations for decades, and no interpretation is quite the same.
The Jetsons, a cartoon that premiered in 1962, imagined a floating city in the sky, where people drive around in flying cars and live in smart homes that can bathe and clothe them. Dark portrayals of the future in the Netflix series Black Mirror series show people living in cubes made of wall-to-wall screens, brain implants that can store and re-access memories, and an idyllic virtual world where dead people can live forever.
Real-world interpretations of future cities aren’t quite so fantastical, but they’re equally exciting. Qlue Smart City, a Jakarta-based smart city platform, is one example of a company utilizing the abundance of data in the Internet Age to make cities safer and more efficient. By using everything from Tweets to traffic data from Waze, to CCTV footage from around the city, Qlue is tapping every possible resource to unearth insights about how cities can work better.
Qlue’s primary consumer-facing offering is its mobile app, which has close to 12,000 downloads on Google Play. The app allows users to report common issues around the city, from potholes to illegally parked vehicles. The complaints, which include geo-tagging and a function to upload a photograph of the problem, are forwarded to the appropriate handling department in the government.
According to Qlue Co-founder and CEO Rama Raditya, the platform is a far cry from the old way of doing things, and it promotes more communication between the people and the state.
“It’s frustrating that people have social issues as simple as a pothole in front of their house, and they don’t even know where to report it,” he says. “That’s something that we are trying to encourage them to do.”
Traditionally, problems with illegal parking or fires were handled within communities, with little to no intervention from municipal services. Flooding, a common occurrence in the fast-sinking capital, plagued low-lying areas of the city with alarming regularity.
Raditya says that Qlue’s data intelligence helped the government to identify causes and alleviate flooding in most of the city’s worst-hit zones. The number of flood-prone points has reduced from 8000 to 450 through diligent garbage removal and other measures to prevent the city’s canals from overflowing. The startup placed first in the Public Empowerment Category of the 2019 World Government Summit Awards for Best Mobile Government Service for their work.
These success stories have prompted Qlue to export this technology to the Business to Business (B2B) and Business to Government (B2G) sectors. Their corporate offerings include a dashboard with various data streams, a mobile workforce system called QlueWork, and QlueVision–the startup’s recently-deployed machine vision system.
QlueWork allows field operators to report incidents to central command easily. For instance, the police forces of Jakarta and Palembang (a city on the island of Sumatra) employed the app to monitor the streets during the recent Asian Games. On a corporate level, employees can report intra-company incidents, such as theft, sanitation issues, or problems as simple as the Internet being down.
Co-founders Raditya and Andre Hutagalung began exploring the idea for Qlue in 2014 after seeing hundreds of unanswered citizens’ complaints on social media. However, the idea behind the app began before that, when Raditya had just returned from a decade-long stint in the U.S.
“When I came back in 2007, it was kind of surprising,” he says. “There were many urbanization issues that I saw, like traffic, sanitation, illegal parking violations, and so on.”
These observations eventually led to Qlue’s founding, supported by Raditya’s previous experience building similar solutions on top of Google Maps. Within a year of developing and launching the app, Qlue was receiving thousands of reports from around the city.
The government also began working with Qlue on the Jakarta Smart City project: a command center reporting data from hundreds of sources. Soon enough, other organizations began to show interest as well, including the national police force, natural disaster agencies, provincial governments, and corporations.
Qlue’s system has already been integrated into the patrolling and security systems of corporations like Sinar Mas Land and Agung Sedayu–two of Indonesia’s largest property developers. Security guards are equipped with devices that alert them when the AI identifies suspicious activity in the building’s CCTV feed.
“We are entering into contracts with real estate and property developers to help them build smart buildings with AI, as well as use the mobile workforce app,” says Raditya. “Today, we are available in 20 cities, malls, hospitals, real estate developments, and more.”
Unlike other ambitious startups in this space, Qlue’s founders aren’t looking to expand the company outside of Indonesia at this time, preferring to focus their efforts on perfecting their system and doing all they can to improve their country. That’s not to say Qlue can’t be found elsewhere; resellers and distributors have begun to license the technology and export it to Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Another area where Qlue is applying their talent for data intelligence and crowdsourced damage reports is disaster response. When devastating flash floods struck the city of Bima in West Nusa Tenggara province in March, Qlue’s platform allowed citizens to report damaged infrastructure, missing persons, and shortages of food, water, and clothing. With up-to-date information about the situation readily available, authorities and non-governmental organizations were able to organize quickly and begin rebuilding the city.
“There’s a lot of social issues being solved, especially with people getting super involved,” says Raditya.
Earthquakes and tsunamis are frequent in Indonesia, which sits squarely in the path of the Pacific Ring of Fire. The deadly September 2018 earthquake and tsunami in Palu could have been detected earlier had a sophisticated sensor system been set up as promised. However, incomplete data from the lone sensor in the region prompted the national geophysical agency, BMKG, to prematurely lift the tsunami warning.
“Those sensors have to be managed by a private company,” says Raditya. “I think someone who’s focused on that system needs to take care of it and keep it maintained. It’s silly when those things are installed, and they don’t work.”
The next step for Qlue in this area is building the technology to anticipate disasters, something Raditya says they are working on together with local universities.
Raditya’s vision of a truly smart city is out of reach for Jakarta and most other cities in the world at the moment, primarily because it needs to be built from scratch. The Qlue team understood from the outset that their work in Jakarta would merely be corrective, and are directing their efforts toward conducting predictive analyses on everything from criminal activity to flooding.
“Right now, it still needs a lot of improvement. The good thing is, the government is very supportive of the smart city initiative. [They] want to have 100 smart cities by 2021,” says Raditya.
The Jakarta Smart City initiative is one decisive step the government has taken to realize this goal. It captures 400 data sources, including GPS tracking of public buses, data from navigation app Waze, CCTV analytics, and Qlue’s data sources. These streams of information are enabling authorities to better understand and predict traffic, crowd density, and more, but Raditya believes greater efforts are needed in terms of installing sensors and gathering mobility information.
“More data means more predictive analyses, and more decisions can be made,” he says. “I think that’s what Jakarta needs to be working on right now. There’s a lot of homework to do, which is exciting because we see these problems as opportunities for us to help Jakarta to become a smarter city.”
As a local startup, Qlue hasn’t encountered barriers to data access and ownership, enjoying a greater-than-average level of trust. However, Raditya believes that this laissez-faire attitude toward data security and protection is a double-edged sword, as data is currently entirely unregulated in Indonesia. Using facial recognition as an example, he illustrates the differences in attitude between Indonesia and that of other nations.
“In China, they embrace it. In the U.S., they don’t–it’s a privacy issue. But in Indonesia, there is no regulation yet,” he says. “That’s why it’s also good for us to help the government and provide insights on what needs to be regulated.”
Qlue’s vision for its system of dashboards and workforce management apps is equally ambitious. They hope to connect clients’ dashboards to foster information exchange and collaboration between the public and private sectors.
“I believe that will solve problems faster because you need to collaborate with others in order to solve social issues in the city. You can’t do it alone,” he says.
The road ahead is not without obstacles. As Raditya says, there’s plenty of work to be done to create smarter and more efficient cities. Empowering citizens to connect with their governments is a step in the right direction, as is building a responsible population that someday–if Qlue has any say in the matter–might inhabit one of the smartest cities in the world.