How Tech-Enabled Smart Cities Are Helping Fight Covid19

Many cities have focused on leveraging technology as part of their smart city plans in the areas of citizen engagement, traffic management, safety & security, emergency response, health care management, etc.

While the initial caseload of Covid19 in India was confined to metro cities like Delhi and Mumbai, it is now the Tier 2 and 3 cities that are contributing the most to new Covid19 cases in the country. The increasing caseload has also led to authorities across cities taking various steps to control the spread of the disease among people and ensure proper treatment and care of those affected. Countries like India with densely populated cities face extra challenges due to a lot of unplanned infrastructures, which often acts as a barrier for containment efforts. Besides, the pandemic has also led to what climate activists and green technology campaigners could not even dream about so far: virtually empty city streets, clean air to breathe and limited traffic on the roads. In fact, Covid19 has made everyone rethink and revisit that how people start living in a more healthier and sustainable way as many global health experts claim the pandemic to become another endemic virus that will never go away completely. Hence, projects like smart cities can help us in paving the way for smarter and better-equipped cities that can tackle such pandemics in the future more effectively.

Many cities have focused on leveraging technology as part of their smart city plans in the areas of citizen engagement, traffic management, safety & security, emergency response, health care management, etc. A Smart City's basic tenet is based not only on easy-to-access infrastructure but also on technical developments in interaction between governments and people. Across cities, we are seeing the emergence of contact-less societies in the form of digital payments, smart transportation.

Authorities are moving quickly to work with startups to curb coronavirus spread, but some novel approaches are also being suggested by city administrations. Experts are calling for smart city tech to be at the forefront of reopening plans to ensure that people keep social distance while returning to a ‘new normal' lifestyle. According to ABI Research, drones, AI thermal scanning, autonomous deliveries, digital twins and real-time monitoring of locations have all been deployed in some capacity to keep local services and businesses running in many cities across the globe.

Effective smart city solutions need volunteer data from the residents. For example, keeping people up-to-date with real-time crowding information in a public space depends on collecting data about individual locations in that area. Smart city initiatives based on the technology will allow this data to be collected, analyzed, and published. Recently, an AI-based myth-busting chatbot was also developed by a group of IITians that aims to deliver truer information on the ground.

How Indian cities are fighting the pandemic?

In India, Agra has been at the forefront of this initiative. The smart city administration collaborated with Gaia, a SaaS company to leverage its SmartFeedback technology and Microsoft's Azure platform to track Covid19 cases. Furthermore, Agra Smart City launched a tele-video consultation service that allows citizens to book an appointment with healthcare professionals, and even download prescriptions online from a dedicated website/app. Another smart city, under the Smart Cities Mission (SCM), Varanasi has deployed drones to spray sanitizer around Covid19 sensitive parts of town. CCTV surveillance and GIS technology are also being used by the city through a dedicated command and control center set up under SCM to keep a close watch over crowd movement during the lockdown.

Smart cities like Pune, Surat, Bengaluru, etc. are tracking the status of the disease spread and identifying localized hotspots through integrated data analytics monitored at their respective integrated command and control centres (ICCCs). Cameras across the cities, designed for traffic and safety & surveillance, are being used at the ICCC to track the movement of vehicles and people in the lockdown areas. An innovator in physical security and machine learning, Kogniz – launched an AI- enabled camera and software system that scans groups and crowd entering a facility and identifies anyone with an elevated temperature.

Global smart cities leveraging tech

One of the most successful demonstrations of the power of smart city technology was delivered by South Korea. The country's Smart City Data Hub program enabled the government to use data from cameras and other sensors to perform advanced contact tracing. As a result, South Korea has been one of only a handful of countries to slash infection rates quickly without a complete lockdown.

In Singapore, the government has very effectively used social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Telegram to regularly share Covid19 information with citizens.

Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City implemented a system to manage quarantined people and Covid19 patients in centralized isolation sites; launched an app for its residents to declare their health status and in monitoring the location of people getting close contact with patients. Through this aggressive contact tracing, mass mobilization of citizens and an unprecedented level of transparency, Vietnam emerged to successfully control the spread of novel coronavirus. Not only did it emerge as an exemplary model for Covid19 response but also an effective model of smart cities through its eGovernance models and real-time distribution of information to all.

Smart cities: From a dream to reality

The current health crisis has certainly helped in building momentum for smart cities globally. What seemed a far-away dream has been accelerated enough by the pandemic. But as we emerge from this pandemic, we will need to think carefully about the governance policies and the behavioral changes we all need to bring in so as to ensure a better way of living in smarter cities. The government authorities will also need to rethink the design of city systems to support citizens in areas like public transport, emergency response, recreational facilities and so on. Active collaboration between city planners, tech firms and citizens will be crucial in orchestrating our future cities and hence our lives. We at NXP are enabling cities across the globe to achieve new standards of sustainability, efficiency, mobility, and economic growth by simplifying how products and services are accessed.

Managing the pandemic in cities equipped with IoT devices and a robust technology ecosystem will help in curbing the transmission of cases while technologies like Ultra-wide band (UWB) can help in tracking and monitoring people who are under isolation. In a nutshell, transparency and reliable information can lead to effective eGovernance and successful implementation of cities of the future, encouraging people to put their trust in the technology and the government.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house