A Spartan helmet presides over the reception of the offices of the artificial intelligence solutions company Neural Labs, located in Cerdanyola del Vallès (Barcelona). Its co-founder and CEO, Elías Valcárcel, explains that he is there to remind them that they fight in the most adverse situations, competing against technological giants and emerging companies from countries with a great tradition in the security sector such as China or Israel. With a team of 30 people, Neural Labs sells more than 2,000 licenses of software of artificial intelligence for surveillance cameras, especially in Colombia, Argentina and Spain. Its technology allows the automatic revision of the license plates of the vehicles to the National Police, the control of access of the cars to the Low Emissions Zone in Barcelona, as well as the arrest of cars involved in all kinds of crimes by the bodies. Latin American security authorities.
Question. Do we live in an Orwellian world, increasingly watched by cameras?
Answer. The cameras are to monitor people who do not comply with the rules. With them, we are taking very dangerous people off the street. I wish they weren’t necessary.
P. They would be out of business …
R. No, we would look for it. They also serve to prevent accidents and to improve mobility, among many other uses.
P. They started in 2005 with the recognition of license plates in car parks. Today they offer increasingly complex technology for road and police safety. How do smart cameras work?
R. Everything is algorithm. The cameras are the eyes of the beast that understands the image thanks to artificial intelligence. They capture the image, but the algorithm is the one that detects vehicles, people, fallen objects, bicycles, electric scooters or whatever. We listen to the market to evolve. We currently sell all kinds of solutions for cities based on artificial intelligence. We can solve any regulation of the new Traffic Law, including that of electric scooters, detect everything that each law and municipality asks of us.
P. Such as the detection of vehicles without the environmental badge of the General Directorate of Traffic (DGT).
R. Yes. It is one of the newer applications. To improve the air quality of the urban environment, we prevent access to the Low Emissions Zone of Barcelona for the most polluting vehicles at prohibited hours. We work with the intelligent mobility systems company Aluvisa with which we hope to offer our technology for other low emission areas to other Spanish cities, including Madrid ―the Climate Change Law approved in May obliges municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants to implement these controls before 2023.
P. A damaged car without DGT environmental badge was fined when being transported by a truck. Does artificial intelligence make unthinkable mistakes in a human?
R. Artificial intelligence has its limits and depends on the definition of the scope of the project. In this case, the system detects only license plates, so the penalties must always go through human validation. In other projects, such as tunnels, for example, the algorithm does distinguish if they are people on a motorcycle or bicycles that are being transported by another vehicle.
P. What advantages does your technology offer the National Police?
R. We made the neural algorithm used by their Izeta cars, which have access to the list of license plates wanted for crimes such as theft, terrorism or sexual violence, among others. He quickly sweeps all the license plates that he crosses, without the police having to type in the license plate of each suspicious car. Our solutions are also used by the police forces of Colombia and Argentina. Recently, in Argentina they stopped a stolen car that was full of bombs.
P. Is cybersecurity your big challenge?
R. Of course, but we use encrypted channels to protect it. Criminals don’t want to be controlled. In Sinaloa (Mexico) they destroyed our cameras directly with bullets.
P. And what about privacy?
R. In Europe, putting cameras has a very bad reputation because we are concerned about privacy. In other countries, where we save lives on a daily basis, they have no problem at all. Our partner Herta, a specialist in facial recognition, sells practically all their technology in South America, whereas here they only use it for marketing. [El Parlamento Europeo aprobó este mes una resolución contra la tecnología de reconocimiento facial en la que pide la “prohibición permanente del reconocimiento automático de individuos en espacios públicos”].
P. What are the latest technological advances in smart cameras?
The so-called computing on the edge, which is basically putting chips to the camera to gain scalability [la capacidad de un sistema para hacerse más grande, sin perder en calidad], since each camera does its job and the system endures. This type of processing will converge with the Internet of Things (IoT) [la conexión de objetos cotidianos a través de internet]. The 5G [la quinta generación de tecnología de telefonía móvil] It will give us better connectivity, better response time. It will help a lot. They are technologies that overlap, that converge. Smart cities are where all these technologies will be found.
P. Do you also install smart cameras on drones?
R. Yes. Next to Medellín (Colombia), we have drones that read license plates and faces combining both technologies with our partner Herta, whose niche is facial recognition.
P. They have won Amazon a contract in Buenos Aires. Is it difficult to compete with the tech giants?
R. The key is hyperspecialization. We, unlike Amazon, give you a turnkey product. Amazon said it could do it, but we had the finished product. We also defend ourselves by involving service technology. To do this, we constantly train.
P. So your sector is very competitive?
R. Yes, our Chinese competitor Hikvision, which has 20,000 workers, is a tsunami that is sweeping. It makes entire smart cities. In Europe they have been allowed to enter without any type of tariff. The American government has put some hindrance on it, but in South America they have entered very strong. In addition, the fame in our security sector is held by the Israelis, for whom everything works in their favor, even investment. We go to lungs, we have never done any rounds. Dedicating ourselves to this, it has merit to be alive.