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TIL: Dubai uses AI to plan its bus routes

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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.

Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) is exploring the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to plot more efficient bus routes based on how they are used throughout the day.

Machine learning (ML) algorithms could eventually inform updates to 150 routes used by 2,158 buses across Dubai, the RTA said.

The authority trialled the system on ten public bus routes over thirty days, using Nol Card (Dubai’s public transport smart card) data to understand patterns such as which bus stops were busy all day, which were primarily used during peak hours and those that were rarely used.

The one-month trial cut wasted time on bus routes by 13.3 percent, the RTA reports.

Ahmed Mahboub, Executive Director of Smart Services, Corporate Technology Support Services Sector, RTA, commented: “By using machine learning algorithms in analyzing the captured data, departments can build up systems and take decisions with reference to abolishing certain stops, or proposing an express service that skips those stops, while ensuring customer needs are always addressed. Such a process will contribute to improving this vital service.”

The technology could also reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions and save time for staff, he added.

The RTA said the approach is in line with the United Arab Emirate government’s Artificial Intelligence Strategy as well as its own internal goals. It could also be of interest to cities and public transport operators more widely as they consider how to plan for the future amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has upended the patterns which mobility systems have been based around.


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Published October 7, 2020 — 09:00 UTC

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Netflix will offer its library for free to Indian non-subscribers for a weekend

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Earlier this month, Netflix said that it’s ending the 30-day long free trial that it used to entice people into getting a subscription. Today, during its earnings call, the company stated that it’s exploring new ways for people to experience its library before they get a subscription.

The first test the streaming giant is performing is a free weekend-long trial. The company will start this experiment in India, where it’ll offer its service for free on the weekend of December 4, as reported by Protocol.

India is the first of many countries where Netflix will test this two-day “Streamfest” to hopefully gain more subscribers. The company would want to compete with Disney+ Hotstar in the market, which has more than 8 million subscribers in the country.

[Read: What audience intelligence data tells us about the 2020 US presidential election]

“We think that giving everyone in a country access to Netflix for free for a weekend could be a great way to expose a bunch of new people to the amazing stories that we have, the service, how the service works, really create an event, and hopefully get a bunch of those folks to sign up. So we’re going to try that in India,” Greg Peters, the chief operating officer for the company, said on the earnings call.

Netflix has tried various ways to promote its service in a content-crazy market. Last year, it launched a mobile-only subscription plan for Indian users at ₹199 (~$3) a month. The company has also tested byte-sized weekly plans in the country starting from under $1 for a mobile-only subscription. The company also said it’s committed than $420 million to produce local content in the last couple of years.

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A long-awaited Willow sequel is official, and it’s coming to Disney Plus

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After years of silence, Disney has confirmed that Lucasfilm’s Willow will receive a sequel, in the form of a TV series coming to its Disney Plus streaming subscription service. The pilot will be directed by Crazy Rich Asians’ John M. Chu.

Willow has largely remained untouched since its original release in 1988, but this long rumored sequel will join existing novels and a comic book that previously built out the world of the film. The original can already be streamed on Disney Plus, and this new series will join The Mandalorian as Lucasfilm’s second television spin-off on the platform.

The 1988 film, directed by Ron Howard, was a cult hit when it first premiered, a fantasy adventure about an aspiring sorcerer named Willow (Warwick Davis) tasked with shepherding infant princess Elora Danan to safety alongside a ragtag group of fairies and warriors played by the likes of Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley and Kevin Pollak.

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Not much is known about the sequel series beyond that it takes place years after the original film, but Ron Howard, now an executive producer, describes it as a “creative lean-forward” rather than a “nostalgic throw-back.” Willow himself will return: Warwick Davis, also a beloved Star Wars veteran, is set to reprise his role.

For Lucasfilm, this Willow series comes after five years of focus on Star Wars exclusively. Now that the Skywalker Saga is wrapped, I’m curious to see what other classics the company might bring back if Willow succeeds. I’m particularly interested in an American Graffiti series; there’s definitely enough teenage angst for a TV show if Riverdale is any indication. And yes, Indiana Jones and Labyrinth are still in the mix too. A fifth Indiana Jones continues to inch its way to production. And while not affiliated with Disney, a sequel to Labyrinth from Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson is also in the making.

Disney has made it clear that Disney Plus is the future of the company, and it needs all the new content it can get even with The Mandalorian returning for a second season and WandaVision on the way. A Willow series on Disney Plus, and perhaps other future Lucasfilm spin-offs, might help.

Though there’s no announced release date for this new series, the original film is available to stream on Disney Plus and remains as charming as ever. All the better for fans new and old to reacquaint themselves before the next adventure starts.

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Quibi apps arrive on Apple TV, Android TV, and Fire TV

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Quibi, the troubled streaming service focused on “quick bites” of mobile-first content, has just launched apps for Apple TV, Android TV and Fire TV. The company quietly announced the change in an updated support article.

These apps follow Quibi’s ongoing attempts to get more eyes on its content after launching as a mobile-only app. The company first made content more shareable in May, and followed that soon after with AirPlay and Chromecast support.

Unfortunately for Quibi, these changes to the initial mobile-first strategy may have come too late. A new report in The Information claims that co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg has attempted to sell Quibi’s programming to Facebook and NBCUniversal while telling others he may have to shut down the company entirely.

Quibi has struggled to scale since its launch, dealing with a lackluster reaction to its first collection of content and a drop in subscribers after its 90-day trial offered at launch ended. The pandemic has likely played a role in dissuading customers from resubscribing, but really Quibi has never made a great case for itself in the first place.

It’s great for Quibi fans that there’s multiple more ways to watch the service, but if the company doesn’t right itself, soon enough there won’t be any way to watch at all.

Disclosure: Vox Media, which owns The Verge, has a deal with Quibi to produce a show, and there were early talks about a Verge show as well.

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