Axilion uses AI to help cities manage traffic, boost safety, and improve urban life.

Please Note: Article originally featured as part of Microsoft Customer Stories.

Axilion helps cities across the world solve their traffic management challenges with its Smart Mobility platform. The company uses Microsoft Azure platform as a service (PaaS) resources—including Azure IoT Hub, Azure Batch, and Azure IoT Edge—to help cities generate real-time traffic insights and create strategic traffic plans using AI. With its new platform, Axilion helped Jerusalem reduce the travel time for its light-rail service by 47 percent, and it helped Haifa prioritize pedestrian mobility, making it safer for people to move about the city.

Traffic makes the world go slow

In and near every city in the world, people sit in traffic. In cars, trucks, busses, and trams, people take too long to get where they want, losing time, losing money, and losing patience. Axilion wants to help. The company’s smart solutions for traffic mobility help traffic engineers reprioritize the flow of cars, transit, pedestrians, and cyclists to create safer, more livable environments.

Axilion offered a platform that traffic engineers used to optimize traffic signals to reduce vehicle congestion, minimize transit wait times, and improve overall travel times for city residents, commuters, and visitors. City engineers used the platform for more control over strategic traffic plans, but Axilion wanted to give them insight into how their traffic-signal operations affected the flow of vehicles in selected corridors and across entire traffic grids. “We wanted to help engineers see exactly what’s going on in their cities and design their traffic management around the insights they gain,” says Oran Dror, Cofounder and CEO at Axilion.

A smarter way to travel

To provide those insights and keep pace with its globally expanding customer base, Axilion needed a platform that it could easily customize for different cities. So it chose Microsoft Azure platform as a service (PaaS) resources to rearchitect its platform to a software as a service (SaaS) offering called Axilion Smart Mobility.

Axilion uses Smart Mobility to create a digital twin of its customer’s city that together they use to plan, test, and optimize different traffic plans. The digital twin has every element of its real counterpart—the same streets, traffic signals, and other infrastructure. It displays real data regarding vehicle, pedestrian, and transit flow, all captured in real time and anonymized to meet General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements, and it sends the data to Azure for storage and processing.

To gather this data, cities install Internet of Things (IoT) cameras and other devices on vehicles and traffic infrastructure throughout their traffic grids. Axilion uses Azure IoT Hub and Azure IoT Edge to seamlessly connect the devices to Azure, where the data is analyzed with advanced machine learning models. “With Azure IoT Hub, we saved months of work,” says Dani Daniel, Vice President of AI and Algorithms at Axilion. “Without it, we would have had to write all of our own protocols to connect our devices—so it gave us a big boost forward.”

After the data is captured in the digital twin, Axilion uses its own Reinforcement Learning AI model to test a huge range of traffic possibilities and identify an optimal strategy, with options for city engineers to prioritize specific elements of traffic—such as public transit, pedestrians, or private cars. Now with the platform on Azure, it takes Axilion just a few days to then customize Smart Mobility for any city, no matter how unique its traffic management challenges. And while the platform runs completely in the cloud, Axilion uses Azure Stack to offer hybrid flexibility for cities with data residency concerns.

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Axilion’s Azure infrastructure

Two cities, two opportunities

Since rearchitecting the platform on Azure, Axilion has used Smart Mobility to help the cities of Jerusalem and Haifa take on a diverse range of opportunities. Both cities wanted to modernize how they move people and promote smarter, more mobile, more livable cities. “Surveys show that 11 percent of transit passengers choose to leave their private vehicles at home, which translates into a yearly reduction of 140,000 tons of COcarbon footprint from transportation pollution in our city,”  says Dr. Einat Kalisch-Rotem, Mayor of Haifa.

In Jerusalem, 930,000 residents and 2.2 million annual tourists added up to 40,000 riders a day on the city’s light-rail transit system. But with station stops, missed transfers, automobile cross traffic, and more than 270 traffic signals along busy routes, travel times for many riders were too long. To encourage more ridership, the city wanted to make the light-rail journey faster and more convenient to help get vehicles off the road and reduce carbon emissions.

“Jerusalem’s strategic goal is to make public transit an alternative to private cars by deploying the latest innovative technologies,” says Itzhak Lary, CEO of Jerusalem Municipality. “We selected Axilion and Microsoft to maintain and fix ‘green waves’ for private vehicles, while improving travel time, schedule adherence, and reliability of public transit—while reducing emissions in the city center and improving pedestrian safety at the same time.”

Jerusalem partnered with Axilion to create an optimal travel plan for its buses and light rail using the Smart Mobility platform. It deployed dozens of IoT cameras throughout the city to capture real-time traffic data. And it used AI capabilities in Smart Mobility and IoT Edge to identify when, where, and why the transit was delayed so that it could immediately optimize traffic signals to prioritize the public transportation.

A new traffic priority

Traffic engineers in cities around the world are faced with another complex traffic management opportunity—a serious, citywide congestion problem that restricts mobility and puts public safety at risk. The city’s intersections are always filled with vehicles—from private cars and commercial vehicles to electric bicycles—which keeps people from traveling anywhere fast. The congestion makes it difficult for pedestrians to cross roads safely at intersections, often provoking them to walk into busy roads.

“Essentially, more and more cities want to ‘flip the pyramid,’” says Dr. Orly Avner, Head of Research at Axilion. “Cities are asking Axilion to prioritize pedestrians and make their city centers safer environments for travelling in.”

Axilion uses Virtual Driver AI Network on its Smart Mobility platform to perform video-level processing on all the footage captured across the city’s IoT cameras. With those analyses, city engineers can identify exactly where pedestrians are forced to break traffic laws, what causes them to do it, and how to solve the issue. To power the video processing and provide the huge amount of compute power required to run the analyses, Axilion uses Azure Batch for on-demand GPU acceleration.

“We can host workloads in an Azure datacenter close to nearly any city,” says Daniel. “So, we can use Azure Batch to provide large amounts of compute power to any city we work with.”

Faster trips, safer pedestrians, and accelerated value

Since deploying Smart Mobility on Azure, Jerusalem has reduced the travel time for its light-rail service by 47 percent. The new, more efficient service has increased rail ridership by 400 percent, to an average of 160,000 riders every day, with up to 200,000 on peak days. And with an improved light-rail service that’s 30 percent faster, the city has been able to increase tram frequency by 66 percent while reducing the number of trams and buses required by 31 percent.

The city has improved quality of life for residents and visitors and reduced annual CO2 emissions by more than 100,000 tons, with 15 percent of citizens switching from private cars to public transportation. “Using Axilion’s platform on Azure, we’ve accomplished our goals of reducing carbon emissions in the city center by motivating residents to choose public transportation—all while increasing pedestrian safety and overall mobility systems effectiveness,” says Moshe Leon, Mayor of Jerusalem.

In Haifa, city traffic managers have used Smart Mobility to optimize signal plans, clear key intersections, and improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety—without having to deprioritize private vehicles. “With Axilion and Azure, we prioritized pedestrians in the traffic-signal plan and then let the AI do all the work,” says Dr. Avner.

Meanwhile, Axilion used Azure to build each city’s solution quickly and cost effectively, and it accelerated time to value for Smart Mobility with worldwide go-to-market support from Microsoft. Most importantly, it has built a powerful, flexible traffic management platform that it can adapt to any city’s needs, helping people everywhere to save time, get more done, and live better lives.

Since partnering with Jerusalem, Axilion has gone on to help other cities face similar traffic management problems. Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city, wanted an efficiency solution for its Bus Rapid Transit system, Metronit. It wanted to improve overall trip time, enable buses to run more often, and serve more of the city’s passengers. Axilion’s Smart Mobility platform was the ideal choice, and it helped Haifa achieve all these goals, resulting in 20 percent shorter trip times, a 23 percent increase in bus frequency, and the ability to serve 95 percent more passengers. And so far, it’s helped the city save USD7 million annually.

“Axilion’s technological infrastructure, which maintains an R&D center in Haifa, is implemented along the Metronit bus commuter lines,” says Dr. Kalisch-Rotem. “It enables the traffic lights to be managed flexibly and effectively, allowing ‘green waves’ for public transportation and private vehicles, increased pedestrian safety, and reduced air pollution in our city.”

“With Azure PaaS resources, we can use our platform to help cities strike a better balance between traffic, transit, and pedestrians, reach their carbon emission goals, and improve their citizens’ safety,” says Daniel.

Discover how Axilion’s Digital Twin technology is helping to overcome urban mobility challenges>