Tech Pre-Requisites and Key Strategies to Build Safe and Smart Cities


Smart Cities

With the smart city initiative gaining wind in India, we sieve through the cacophony of vendor noise and expert speak to understand the absolute essentials to building a smart city and how tech integration from ground-up coupled with nimble urban planning can be the match winner

– Adeesh Sharma

Ever since the Indian government announced the initiative for building 100 smart cities across India, we’ve been seeing large global solutions providers queuing up with their list of smart solutions claiming to do the perfect job. So, we routinely see solutions ranging from smart lighting to smart transportation, smart metering, smart healthcare, etc being regularly showcased at different forums. However, the moot point is how and where authorities and solution providers begin? What are the essentials required before even a single smart city module can be deployed? Through this story we look at all possible answers to these questions.

Over the next ten years, more than one hundred million Indians will move from villages to cities. India’s cities drive economic growth, but fail to provide a satisfactory quality of life to most of their residents. Therefore, achieving the goal of developing 100 smart cities in India will require a lot more than the right technologies, given that Indian cities are lacking in basic governance and physical infrastructure. The central and state governments along with the Local bodies/Municipalities have to focus on the trunk infrastructure which includes water supply systems, sewage systems, sanitation facilities, solid waste management systems, etc. The basic connectivity needs to be upgraded by working towards having a road infrastructure in place.

A smart city is a self-sustaining ecosystem that allows efficient and effective utilization and management of resources such as energy, water, transportation, healthcare, security, etc. It entails cooperation from citizens and a community centric approach that calls for open and collaborative systems allowing transparency and public access to data, eventually leading to; citizen empowerment, effective e-governance, and economic growth. Let’s now discuss the key areas a city must focus on before it starts the journey to become smart.

Smart Power Management
Consistent high growth of the Indian economy and the development of smart cities have resulted in surging energy demand. Since independence, the Indian power system has grown from 1362 MW to 250GW. Far-reaching goals of the modern Indian power system can be achieved by deployment of smart grids and smart cities. The hurdles for smart cities include stable, secure and affordable energy supply, while incorporating renewable and sustainable energy sources. For setting up smart cities, it is crucial to evaluate energy consumption patterns, fluctuations in energy prices, the economic relevance of social sectors, the scarcity of materials, population growth and ageing, etc. Further, it is required to have the right energy policy infrastructure: smart grids, multifunctional and flexible building networks; and energy performance analyses. Therefore, a comprehensive integration of ICT is required in buildings, homes, smart power grids, hospitals, schools, etc. Through tech driven transparency and e-governance initiatives we can bring excellence and smartness in public services. Smart homes form an integral part of smart cities and when connected to cities’ public infrastructure, can bring out energy efficiency. Smart homes with rooftop solar panels and two-way energy meters form a core part of this exercise. All this will come at a cost and people living in smart cities need to be more compliant for the city’s community to derive the maximum benefits.

Smart transportation
Transport in urban areas is significant from societal and economic perspectives — it increases productivity rates and chances of employment, improves accessibility, throws open investment opportunities and enhances cultural interaction. Increasing levels of urbanization in India bring with it rapidly deteriorating air quality, choked roads and an alarming number of road accidents. The lack of adequate infrastructure plagues the transport sector, leading to traffic jams, and negative impacts on energy efficiency.  A smart traffic control system would gather real-time data from roads and manage traffic lights based on traffic volume. A central command monitoring data could help reduce congestion, and clear roads for emergency services. Similarly, a smart power or water grid would use sensors to monitor usage throughout a city. Real-time communication allows easy synchronization of trains and buses thereby, ensuring a shorter commute home. Availability of online information regarding bus and train schedules, can help in personal time-planning. Intelligent Traffic Management systems use roadside sensors, cameras, automatic number plate recognition systems, wireless communication technologies and big data analytics, to track the traffic in arterial highways and roads. Connected traffic infrastructure with analytics will increasingly improve traffic flow and prevent snarls and pileups. Navigation systems deployed in a smarter city can proactively predict most congestion and help ease the same by diverting the traffic through alternate routes.

Smart planning for disaster management
While the integration of ICT to facilitate the residents in their day to day activities are being given the primary focus in setting up of smart cities, the devastating earthquake in neighbouring Nepal, which has claimed over 8,000 lives raises a key concern: How safe will be our smart cities against natural disasters like an earthquake or a food in coastal regions? India has around 38 cities, which are highly prone to earthquakes, and almost 60 percent of the country’s entire landmass is prone to seismic activities. The smart cities should therefore be equipped with disaster management solutions, with surveillance technologies to predict a calamity, save lives and ensure that the city doesn’t come to a standstill. For instance, Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town (SST) in Japan, built by Panasonic, is constructed on one of the most active seismic zones on earth using earthquake resistant materials. The city structures are equipped to consume less energy using solar panels on the roof and complementary cells for generating electricity for lighting and heating water. The city boasts of extensive emergency response systems by including community solar panels that the residents can use for electricity in case of an emergency. In the United States, the newly designed life guard stations for Coney Island, Staten Island, and Rockaway Beach run on photovoltaic and solar hot water heating.

The genesis of a smart city lies in integrating multiple IT solutions
Smart cities have a common data platform which allows the integration of multiple systems and solutions deployed across the key functions throughout its geographical dimensions. The common data platform allows homogenization of the data format for easy data consumption which can be further analysed to create meaningful information. For instance, a simple scenario is having access to the location of emergency response vehicle data which can be accessed in case there is an accident detected on the road. This scenario will have a data platform with access to the video monitoring system, which will highlight the accident, and overlay that information with the location of emergency response vehicles. Other similar use cases are for trash bin pick-ups, traffic light control, and flood/ fire/tsunami emergency response systems. The smart city platform adds more value when coupled with an analytics engine which allows predictive and prescriptive analytics to provide damage control from disasters like floods, tsunamis, fires, terrorist attacks, etc.

Remote Monitoring Solutions (RMS) are at the core of effective smart city management. They help provide authentic information to take corrective actions, allow monitoring of critical parameters and facility performance across multiple locations, facilitate training of personnel based on actual historical data, initiate notifications and escalate them to ensure follow through, if needed. Further, alerts and notifications on smart devices through SMS and e-mail and integration with smart devices like iPad, Android phones, etc further enhance their utility.

The need for robust public-private partnership
In India, hundreds of new towns emerged as a result of sporadic urbanization over the past decade, with the population, density and economy of urban settlements, but without adequate attention on delivering public services. Local state units need to invest revenues in public infrastructure and community facilities, including roads, schools, markets and water supply systems. The fragility of civic institutions will have a serious impact on India’s ability to deliver improvements in well-being to its rapidly growing urban population. Public-private partnerships, the government’s preferred model for smart city development and management, in order to serve the public interest as well as private interests, will require an effective and locally-accountable government partner. The govt therefore must play a role in strengthening the financial, administrative and technical capacities of municipal governments, and encourage states to devolve powers, not just responsibilities.

A key smart project in India
DMIC or ‘Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor’ is an area of 150Km on the both sides of ‘Dedicated Freight Corridor’ or a rail corridor, which is 1483 Km long and connecting Jawaharlal Nehru Port near Mumbai to Dadri near Delhi. It will pass through 6 States – U.P, NCR of Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra, with end terminals at Dadri in the National Capital Region of Delhi and Jawaharlal Nehru Port near Mumbai. Approximately 180 million people, 14 percent of the population, will be affected by the corridor’s development. DMIC entails settlement of Greenfield Smart Cities between Delhi and Mumbai. The first node of this Greenfield Smart City development will start at Bhiwadi-Khushkera-Neemrana. The project is so big in itself that it is expected that this project will give birth to more than 10 lakh direct and indirect jobs overall in all the smart cities.

Some success stories from across the globe
There are unique aspects that India can learn from smart cities across the globe.  For instance, in Boston, citizens use a mobile application to register concerns about streets that need cleaning or potholes that need fixing helping the city authorities to address the problems quickly without first having to dispatch employees to investigate. Bucheon City in South Korea provides drivers with real-time traffic information from various sources, such as cameras and speed radars, helping drivers to avoid congested roads and city authorities to track traffic volumes and plan for new roads. This helps in reducing traffic congestion and resultant pollution.