India is becoming urbanized at a rapid and unprecedented pace. An outcome of this urbanization is the increasing stress levels that cities here are having to bear vis-à-vis resources. As of today, our cities are struggling to achieve self-sustainability, energy efficiency, financial inclusion and economic prosperity while maintaining law and order. To cope with these challenges, we need to empower our cities with technology, skilled workforce and out of the box thinking and decision making.
A connected lifestyle
The tech-savvy urban population is more interested in information-driven connectivity, automation and digital interactions. With the massive adoption of smart phones, advancements in technology from 2G, 3G, to LTE, cellular connectivity is available everywhere, even in hard-to-reach areas. The connectivity-driven urban lifestyle enables smart initiatives across three core areas urbanization: planning and management, infrastructure, and people.
“A smart city needs to be instrumented, interconnected and intelligent. This is possible when all the governing and civic bodies running the city have a centralized command & control centre.”
Keeping with the demand for transformational change, the government’s Smart Cities Mission was launched last year, with a total of ₹980 billion approved by the Cabinet for the development of 100 Smart Cities and an upgrade of 500 others.
An urban renaissance and the Internet of Things
The Smart Cities Mission is ushering an urban renaissance in the country as a result of a paradigm shift in the approach to urban development — comprehensive, inter-connected and vision-oriented rather than piece-meal. The Internet of Things (IoT) is at the heart of this renaissance, driving the connectivity-dependent technology marketplace by bringing together varied embedded devices like sensors, mobile devices etc. and enabling communication among them with minimum need for any human intervention.
IoT is facilitating the transformation of cities by providing means to optimize utilization of limited resources and facilities, while improving the living standards for everyone. It is enabling cities to leapfrog sustainable development with deployment of connected solutions such as Smart Energy, Smart Transportation, Smart Water Management and Smart Waste Management. The potential business opportunity of these IoT solutions in India is immense. However, application of IoT for making cities smarter must be handled proficiently in order to offer an enhanced quality of life. This is more important for brown-field cities where the local governance, law and order and civic bodies are struggling to cope with the pressure.
A smart city needs to have three features of being instrumented, interconnected and intelligent. This will be possible when all the governing and civic bodies running and managing the city have a centralized command and control centre. With IoT, smart devices can be installed across the city and monitored to help:
- Police departments in prevent crime or catch the culprits before they flee. While smart homes and shops can trigger alarms on intrusion, the dark spots of the city can be monitored remotely round the clock.
- Manage traffic better by diverting vehicles in peak and off peak hours to prevent jams, fine those violating speed limits or crossing red lights, and even catch drunken drivers before they hit the road. Ambulances will never get stuck in jams.
- Save energy by managing streetlights as per the luminosity in the area and not by a fixed on and off time.
- Create a single electronic health record for patients will help doctors to know their complete history before providing consultation and treatment. Remote healthcare facilities will be a boon to senior citizens and other patients who prefer staying with family and friends rather than in a hospital.
- Put in place an integrated multi-modal transport system ensuring seamless intra-city connectivity. A single prepaid card for all public transport system — buses, metros, state and private cabs, tolls etc — can eliminate queues and save on travel time.
Monitoring public services and facilities will be a crucial charter. This involves a unified system developed for governing public administrations by technology providers. The objective of such systems is not only to deliver smart access to public services but additionally to create a maintainable infrastructure. For citizens of connected cities, these developments mean convenience, efficiencies, affordability, security and time savings.
The ride to Smart Cities can be bumpy
We cannot ignore the fact that the increased inclination toward information-intensive programs presents a heightened vulnerability to cyber-crime. If government institutions fail to provide secure connectivity, they risk the privacy and security of individuals as it relates to health, finances, and social interactions, among others. Following industry-proven best practices and designing programs with security and privacy in mind are critical to the successful adoption of smart initiatives.
“If government institutions fail to provide secure connectivity, they risk the privacy and security of individuals as it relates to health, finances and social interactions…”
The lack of consensus and industry standards on smart initiatives is causing uncertainty among government institutions that want to realize the promise of connected cities. Integrating connectivity initiatives across all new and existing urban development programs requires increased focus and investments to leverage IoT as a disruptive technology. Lastly, the IoT ecosystem is complex, and the technology continues to evolve further, challenging the city governments even as they work to create urban spaces where people, data, and things are connected.
Progressive cities are already responding to the challenges related to fiscal uncertainty, population growth, limited resources, and climate instability, among others. Some state governments have already started rolling enquiries and tying up with industry associations for consultation on technology-based smart solutions as a panacea to the challenges they are facing. It will be interesting to see how business organizations and government authorities strategically leverage IoT technologies, develop baseline targets and choose Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to further their smart city initiatives. If things go to plan, India will see a real Smart City by 2018-19.