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How Barcelona is using AI on its subway trains to curb spread of COVID-19

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This article was originally published by Sarah Wray on Cities Today, the leading news platform on urban mobility and innovation, reaching an international audience of city leaders. For the latest updates follow Cities Today on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube, or sign up for Cities Today News.

A smart ventilation system is being trialled on Barcelona’s metro network to maximize fresh air, regulate temperature and humidity and help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB) is piloting the RESPIRA system from SENER Engineering. The artificial intelligence (AI) platform reads the temperature, humidity, air quality and electricity consumption in metro stations in real-time. An algorithm combines this data with information such as the weather forecast and expected occupancy levels to predict environmental conditions at the stations and accordingly program the operation of each fan to regulate temperature and energy consumption.

TMB says intelligent control of the ventilation will also bring the maximum amount of fresh air inside, which will increase hygiene and “reduce the risk of proliferation of COVID-19 and various microorganisms, in accordance with the guidelines of the health authorities”. The system could also support predictive maintenance.

RESPIRA will be piloted from this month on Lines 1 to 5, which carry 94 percent of passengers. The trial will be studied by the Ministry of Science and Innovation and, if successful, could be expanded to other large venues in Spain.

Digital transformation

TMB is the main public transport operator in Catalonia and one of the largest in Spain. It manages an eight-line, 156-station metro network – 25 percent of which is automated – as well as city buses.

Ramon Bacardí, Director of the Metro network, said: “This is a good example of the application of technologies for the benefit of improving the quality of service and with a direct effect on the customer’s travel experience.”

He added that it highlights “the contribution that the ventilation system can make to provide an environment of safety and comfort [on] the metro network” as operations resume following COVID-19 lockdowns.

“We need, for sustainability and social equity, that public transport returns to be seen as the best option for metropolitan mobility in the Barcelona area,” he commented.

The pilot follows a previous study between TMB and SENER on Line 1 which saw a temperature reduction of 1.2 Celsius compared to previous years.

“Mitigating the heat was one of the goals being pursued. But the study also demonstrated the importance of the proper functioning of ventilation equipment and pointed to the possibilities of intelligent and dynamic control, which took into account the external and internal environmental conditions of the stations and allowed a strategy of optimal ventilation by sending individual speed instructions to the fans, according to the time and day,” a statement from TMB said. “This opened the door to the digital transformation of one of the basic systems of the Barcelona metro infrastructure.”

Published July 7, 2020 — 13:56 UTC