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Spanish AI startup AWAAIT makes sure you pay fare in Barcelona

Written by Valentina Cullmann

Spanish startup AWAAIT is pioneering an AI-powered system to stop Barcelona’s travelers from dodging metro fares.

Startup AWAAIT has entered a cooperation with Catalonian railway company Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC) to use artificial intelligence (IAI) against metro passengers not paying their fare.

The system called „Detector“ is promising to end the phenomena of jumping barriers without paying their fare, dubbed ‘trenecito’ (little train) in Spanish. According to the startup, the installation of the system has led to a 70% drop in fare evasion during the initial tests.

It is currently in place in five metro stations in Barcelona, including Provenza and Plaza de Cataluña, and was extended at the Muntaner station earlier this year. According to Spanish Media, the system has analyzed more than 7 million passengers and detected more than 450 fare-dodger in Plaza de Cataluña alone.

How does „Detector“ work? Using artificial intelligence, the software is analyzing camera images of travelers around the metro entry barriers for suspective behavior. If the evaluation of the visual images triggers the alarm, seven pictures are shot by the camera and automatically send to the metro staff, together with an immediate alert. Armed with these pictures, the inspector can identify and check the ticket of the specific person suspected of not having paid the fare.

For each new station that ‘Detector’ is rolled out at, the system is ‘trained’ through demonstrating popular techniques by those not wanting to pay a fare, such as tailgating behind a passenger and jumping or climbing the metro barriers.

Xavier Arrufat, Founder and CEO at AWAAIT

“After some training the system can automatically register patterns of movement that indicate the the person has not paid its fare”, explains AWAAIT founder and director Xavier Arrufa in an interview with German news published yesterday.

Founded in 2014 in Barcelona, Awaait Artificial Intelligence S.L. has been touring Europe in the last months to present their innovation to public transport companies abroad, including visits to the Transport Research Arena 2018 conference in Vienna in April and the InnoTrans in Berlin in July.

However, international expansion might be hampered by the fact that railway systems in Europe are far from standardized. Whereas the metro in Paris or Athens has gates akin to Barcelona installed, the ‘U-Bahn’ in for example Germany does not usually have any type of physical barriers.

Furthermore, compared to Spain, other EU countries can be much more concerned with data privacy when using images of public spaces. For example, linked to a substantial controversy in public opinion and media, the Google street view images that users can see of Germany have not been updated since 2008. 

However, “Detector” claims that the photos of potential fare-dodgers are captured and stored only for a limited time – and only the suspects creating the alert are send to the mobile phones of metro inspectors.

AWAAIT is unlikely to be the last startup from Barcelona to propose radical innovations based on Artificial Intelligence.

Earlier this month, Barcelona-based AllWomen.tech creates the first Artificial Intelligence (AI) training campus specialized exclusively for women in tech. It will offer an 11-week Artificial Intelligence course and short face-to-face workshops on technological topics such as Chatbots, Blockchain, User Experience, Digital Analytics, Online Advertising and introductory courses in programming, among others.

Read more:  AllWomen creates 1st AI training campus for women in tech in Barcelona

About the author

Valentina Cullmann

Valentina is a writer at the Espacio media incubator. Previously, she worked as a consultant on economic development for GFA Consulting.