Smart Cities need no introduction; the concept and its benefits are quite clear. They represent the right approach to addressing the various problems caused by the overcrowding of cities – such as increased pollution, lack of sanitation, water and power shortages as well as traffic snarls, among many other things. How these Smart Cities need to be built, however, remains unanswered despite a raging debate over the past year.
Late last year, the Government of India introduced a draft Internet of Things (IoT) policy with the aim of evaluating the use of Machine to Machine (M2M) technology to address the problems associated with increasing urbanisation. It is a great step in the right direction. The Internet of Things is the closest to a perfect solution for developing Smart Cities. Why? Because a key hurdle in addressing the issues faced by cities today is that while their problems are inter-related and need a cross-functional approach, government departments handling these issues continue to work in silos despite best attempts to develop a unified solution.
IoT can help break down these barriers in one very simple way. The Internet of Things is about intelligence being embedded into things that surround us, in devices or hardware that we interact with everyday. It is about these everyday devices talking to one another on our behalf and taking actions automatically (with our permission, of course). In an intelligent city, the city infrastructure would be able to ‘talk’ within itself. Its application can be as basic as parking lots, traffic lights on streets and at intersections - transmitting data to each other in real time and enabling a central system to respond and act on this data in coordination. Or it can be as advanced as disaster prediction devices talking to alarms deployed in homes to improve citizen response.
In an IoT-enabled Smart Cities ecosystem, implementing decisions – including process changes – would become much easier and, with red tape gone, efficiencies will improve significantly. Human resources will be deployed to think strategically, with technology taking care of tactical implementation at the ground level.
The best part of IoT is that we don’t need to follow the traditional top-down model and acquire technology at exorbitant upfront costs and billion-dollar investments. Instead, we can encourage “bottom-up” hyperlocal innovation at a grassroots level, cost effectively. In fact, its potential for development and innovation is enormous. IoT will encourage a whole gamut of Indian entrepreneurs and professionals to provide products and services that range from manufacturing smart devices, chips and sensors, to providing the software platforms that connect this hardware to collect, store, analyse and interpret the data that emerges. This growth will be replicated across different verticals.
This potential has been recognised and the draft IoT policy clearly states the government’s intent to build an IoT industry in India worth $15 billion by 2020. Clearly, India has proven the intellectual capacity and practical knowledge to achieve this but the government must provide local industry with the right impetus by making it easier for startups to build successful businesses. Marrying ‘Make in India’ with IoT is a win-win way of creating an entire ecosystem that will facilitate industry collaboration for promoting IoT technologies. Start-up friendly policies, including minimal set-up procedures and providing easy access to capital, are measures that must get replicated to encourage entrepreneurship that can create an empowered society by leveraging technology.
There are examples out there already. Bangalore-based SmartrHomes’s water meters are indirectly helping the government achieve water conservation goals with an IoT product that allows individuals to monitor and manage water consumption more effectively. Another company, Smart Buildings, is into energy management – monitoring light, humidity and temperature for commercial buildings. Yet another, Cooey, is into health monitoring via wearable devices. These are just three of many. Each of these companies is an example of local innovation that the government can tap into and integrate with its overall plan to ensure that we build the planned Smart Cities from the grassroots.
Hyperlocal isn’t just a global buzzword; it’s a real idea with a strong value attached to it. Hyperlocal innovation in IoT is the route to building the cities that India deserves.