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Making our cities smart and liveable

Many countries are embracing the concept of smart cities, but it is India’s 100 smart cities initiative that has generated the maximum buzz among global technology firms. The $93-billion Japanese technology major Hitachi believes that its innovative technologies can be put to judicious use to solve urban challenges like traffic, security, water and electricity supply within the chaotic cities here

By: | Published: December 1, 2014 3:27 AM

Imagine if your city could talk —if it could give live status updates on traffic patterns, pollution, parking spaces, water, power and light. Imagine how that kind of information could improve the economic and environmental health of the city. Imagine how it could improve working conditions and productivity for the people who maintain the city. As India’s citizens become smart and use the Internet more often, by means of their mobile phones, tablets and laptops, to make more informed choices, such as navigate urban traffic, find directions and locate offices and restaurants—so will the cities they inhabit.

The government’s intent to create 100 smart cities across the country has created a significant amount of buzz in technology circles in recent months, with numerous tech multinationals making a beeline with their offerings to transform the existing cities into smart urban infrastructures, as well as create world-class townships around the existing cities. The $93-billion Japanese technology firm Hitachi is the latest to be attracted by the 100 smart city opportunity here. It reckons that in a populous 1.2 billion-strong India, where very little work has been done to create a smart urban infrastructure—the opportunity is very big.

At the Hitachi Innovation Forum, held in Singapore recently, FE spoke to the senior Hitachi management to ascertain  their approach to developing sustainable cities in India. “India is a very exciting market. It is one of the most noticeable emerging countries and given the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s thrust on creation of smart urban infrastructure in the country, technology will play a major role in the transformation of city infrastructure. The opportunity is to create smart cities from the ground up and this massive explosion in smart infrastructure is very attractive to us as a company. Accordingly, we will submit proposals to various governments, bid for projects and collaborate with real estate developers to build smart urban infrastructure in the country,” said Yutaka Saito, representative executive officer and executive vice-president, in charge of Energy Solutions Business at Hitachi.

“This is an exciting time for India. The initiatives of the new government to improve quality of life through better administration and citizen services, and transform the existing cities into smart urban infrastructures and create new digital townships will greatly solve urban challenges like traffic, security, water supply, among other services, within chaotic cities the country,” said Neville Vincent, senior vice-president and general manager, Asia Pacific, Hitachi Data Systems. “There is a lot of excitement in technology circles about India’s efforts to improve its city infrastructure. We feel that Hitachi can play a major role in building smart and digital cities in India,” he added.

Need for smart cities
A smart city, according to Vincent, maximises benefits to city administrators and residents while minimising adverse affects on the environment and economy. “The momentum for smart cities is increasing in both developed and developing countries. A smart city supports lifestyles that are urban and enjoyable, but also provides efficient support for disaster resilience and environmentally friendly, sustainable economic growth,” he said.

According to Vincent, urbanisation is increasing very rapidly in countries such as India. “As urbanisation increases, adverse effects also increase. Swelling populations will only exacerbate the numerous problems in urban areas. Problems include slums, air pollution, water shortages, energy shortages, inadequate capacity for treating waste water and sewage, and inadequate capacity for disposing of urban and industrial waste,” he said.

According to industry estimates, India will urbanise so rapidly that by 2030, over half of the population will dwell in its cities. By 2025, India will have 30 cities with 10 million or more residents, with Delhi set to become the most populous city in the world.

Vincent said, “Different cities have different needs. Some cities are in a growth phase and require ongoing expansion and new infrastructure, which many cities struggle to achieve. Other cities have reached a stage of maturity in which aging infrastructure requires repairs and upgrades, and where high value-added services need to be provided to residents. These differences make it important to look at cities in terms of their lifecycles, and to manage urban development appropriately by taking a long-term approach.”

IT underpinning smart cities
Globally, many cities are embracing the concept of smart cities; the global smart cities technology market is expected to be about $300 billion by 2020. Hitachi views the smart city as having a hierarchical structure comprising a variety of infrastructure with different functions and roles and believes that, if each layer of this infrastructure hierarchy is highly integrated, the city can resolve problems and provide services more efficiently. “Hitachi’s vision for smart cities involves using IT to combine the various elements of the hierarchy so that they work together. For example, it will be possible to provide consumers with security, safety, and comfort, as well as the ability to receive services at any time or place, through the physical and system-based coordination of the common elements that make up a city, which include homes, offices, hotels, factories, and schools, and the elements that differ by region, which include industry, commerce, logistics, research and higher education,” said

Vincent. Hitachi is utilising information systems and control systems technologies to provide the platform to underpin this coordination of infrastructures (see box).

Without doubt, the expectations from India’s 100 smart cities are really high and it would be important to translate those expectations into concrete measures on the ground.

Tags: Smart Cities
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