IT gives cities a smart makeover

Written by Sudhir Chowdhary | Updated: Jan 7 2013, 18:57pm hrs
TrafficTraffic jams have become endemic to most Indian big cities. (Reuters)
Some Indian cities, in a small way, are using advanced technology to ease traffic woes and sensors to monitor water leaks, and are tracking garbage trucks through GPS to ensure they dump their waste at designated landfills. Enhancement of quality of life is the prime motivation

Traffic jams have become endemic to most Indian big cities. Not only that, erratic water supply and innumerable power cuts can really drive people crazy, especially in summer months. Thankfully, theres a way around it and technology holds the promise to make our cities a better place to live in.

Cities in the developed world are making technology master plans and then using these plans to develop a citywide command and control network that monitors and optimises the delivery of services like power, water, traffic and healthcare. The basic premise of a smart city is making infrastructure network and delivery of services more efficientacross telecommunication, logistics, water and gas supply.

Indian cities, in a small way, are using advanced technology to solve problems. These include traffic control, using sensors to monitor water leaks, tracking garbage trucks through global positioning systems to ensure they dump their waste at designated landfills, energy management in smart buildings and complexes.

The concept of a smart city is a relatively new one, brought into limelight in India by IBM. The tech major brought its smarter planet concept to India in 2010 and today, it has over 20 projects under IBM smarter cities initiatives. To name a few cities among them are Delhi, Pune and Bangalore. Also under development are smart townships that are controlled centrally, and entire cities along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. As these projects expand, Indian cities will be ready for technology integrationwhich is in a nascent stage right now.

With estimates that out of the countrys 5,000-plus towns and cities, about 100 would require a 21st century urban transportation system, automation of transport services by the nations first intelligent transport system (ITS) in Mysore, is just the beginning. Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) invested approximately R20 crore in the project.

R Ramanan, CEO & MD, CMC, says Intelligent transport system is a project of national importance, which can be replicated to make public transport more commuter-friendly and efficient in all our cities which are undergoing urban renewal. CMC is engaged in and is eyeing several intelligent transportation system projects that can leverage GPS, mobile and cloud technologies to enable citizens to receive real-time information on state transport enabling efficient use of the system.

The overall objective of ITS is to make public transportation in the cities more efficient, comfortable and customer friendly so that citizens are increasingly weaned away from using personal vehicles, thus leading to improved traffic efficiency, reduced traffic congestion and fuel consumption, improved environmental quality and energy efficiency and improved economic productivity, says Ramanan.

The CMC head informs that innovative and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) help address the critical issue of customer service by improving the productivity and efficiency of public transportation. Information such as schedules, arrival/departure time, location, etc is obtained through satellite based GPS and disseminated through large LED displays and also mobile text messages. It improves the overall traffic congestion within cities. It also improves fleet management, navigation, routing while saving precious fuel.

Thats not all. Seven new cities coming up along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor will also use smart technologies with a total investment of $90 billion over a decade, says Tony Spizzichino, CEO Telit RF Technologies. Headquartered in London, the company develops, manufactures and markets machine-to-machine (M2M) modules, which enable machines, devices and vehicles to communicate via wireless networks. Around the world, governments are looking at mass systems and digital technology that cuts across power, water, safety and transport needs. While technology firms are working on digital master plans, the models will be customisable to adapt to Indian realities.

Typically in a smart city, sensors will provide real-time inputs to a control centre on clean water, energy, public transport, public safety, education, and healthcare. Intelligent communication tools will let administrators manage and respond to emergencies quickly as well as provide residents with constant real-time inputs.But what about old urban centres Can smart technologies help re-engineer utility systems and delivery Water distribution systems, for example, were built 50 to 100 years ago and badly need upgrading. Revenues of $14 billion are being lost according to the World Bank, which makes a compelling economic case for better water metering. Smart water grids that leverage the value of smart water meters in homes and other buildings are being deployed, albeit slowly. According to a report from Pike Research, the global installed base of smart meters with two-way communication capabilities will only reach 29.9 million by 2017, up from 10.3 million in 2011.

According to Tony, a major city in the developed world is creating an ultra high-speed broadband network along its waterfront area, with speeds of 100 Mbps for residences and 10 Gbps for commercial establishments. This network is supposed to help deploy a large number of new services like telemedicine, distance education, virtual tourism, and several business applications. Wembley Stadium in London went through a major overhaul, integrating all building safety systems with data, video and voice communications, and then using an intelligent control solution making it the most technically advanced sports stadium in the world.

Even in India, there are departments that are beginning to employ smart technologies. Bangalores traffic police have 180 cameras around the city managed from a control room making it the most advanced traffic management system in India. In the power distribution sector, smart meters are gradually being used which have various advantages over the existing electricity meters like real time two communication, anti-tamper capability, remote disconnection and reconnection capability, remote load control, energy loss calculation, pre-disconnection advice and remote configuration of multiple tariffs.

According to Tony, smart cities demand common open platforms and an information and communication technology infrastructure that can support high-speed internet access across wireline and wireless networks. This infrastructure requires two key components. First, an all-IP core network that can seamlessly integrate wireline and wireless technologies and create a converged infrastructure for buildings and ICT systems. Second, a broadband access network that can integrate systems through wireless, wireline, copper, fiber and other access technologies.

Every minute, 20 Indians move into cities. A recent analysis by Booz and Company says that Indias urban population will increase by 140 million in 10 years and 700 million in four decades. To avoid total collapse of the urban environment, India has to build new smart cities and re-engineer the old ones, the Telit CEO emphasises.