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Alberta company creates synthetic cities to help model the future

Click to play video: 'Alberta company creates synthetic cities to help model the future' Alberta company creates synthetic cities to help model the future
You rarely get a look into what the future holds, but an Edmonton couple's technology offers a glimpse into what's next for city's around the world. Morgan Black has more on what RUNWITHIT Synthetics' technology helps people understand very complex future outcomes. – Jun 30, 2021

An Edmonton-based tech company is using artificial intelligence to offer a glimpse into the future of cities around the world.

Myrna Bittner is the CEO and co-founder of RUNWITHIT Synthetics, alongside her partner Dean Bittner. She said the technology helps people understand very complex future outcomes.

“We’re like [the computer game] SimCity, backed with artificial intelligence, but for real,” she explained. “It’s about being able to create the data people need today to make the most optimal decision.”

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Bittner said the synthetic cities can help people experience what the future holds before they get there. A geospatially accurate model of a city is created, as well as the activity and people inside of it.

“It characterizes the citizens, human behaviour, weather patterns, new technology, infrastructure and policy response,” Bittner said, noting that the modeling catalogue continues to grow.

The pair each have backgrounds in artificial intelligence and software development. They started the company in 2014 and have since been a keynote at the IoT Tech Expo in Silicon Valley.

“That was a big leap from being relatively unknown to being on that stage. It propelled us to a series of successes,” Bittner explained. “We are women-led and a certified Aboriginal business. We’re really proud to represent on the world stage what’s possible.”

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An important contributor to the project is the team at Alberta Innovates, which looks to partner with researchers, small companies and large industry to develop within the province.

Alberta Innovates’ Rick Davidson said it’s been exciting to watch RUNWITHIT grow and evolve.

“They’ve become, in my estimation, a world class, world-leading organization in their area,” Davidson said. “The synthetic modeling they do for companies, cities, countries around the world… they are gaining tremendous respect throughout the world. That’s not bad for a company based in Alberta.”

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The software’s scenarios are usually novel — which means the scenarios haven’t happened yet and have no data.

“We look for existing data sources as a starting base, but the models we create generate their own data. That’s a bit of a different approach. Rather than trying to predict, we enable people to create in a very explainable way.”

Bittner said the technology allows them to look at cities around the world, to identify individual complex issues. RUNWITHIT built a synthetic Edmonton in recent years, exploring energy futures in the city.

“We wanted to understand electric vehicle adoption. We wanted to know how it would change people’s lives, their activity patterns and who would be adopting it and in which neighbourhoods.”

Bittner said the demo could characterize down to the street level which transformers would be overheating on which days given how many people in the neighbourhood responded to an incentive program to purchase an electric vehicle.

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Other scenarios explored through the technology is the quality of life implications of a new transit system, enhanced street lighting for pedestrian safety and the widening of bike lanes.

“We can watch as people in our model make choices about their daily lives and livelihoods. We can even survey them and ask why they made that choice.”

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The company did volunteer work with Edmonton’s Winspear Centre — which is planning its new extension, exploring how people taking transit would make their way to events.

“They have carved out an amazing market niche. I anticipate they are going to do nothing but grow over the next few years,” Davidson said.

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