Smart Cities: A Vision No More

The transformation from a “normal” city to a “smart city” is more evolution than revolution


The interconnection of things and services is making big strides across the globe. In their personal lives, many people are already enjoying the benefits of connected devices such as smartphones and computers. This trend is also leaving its mark on public services, stepping up calls for an interconnected city. Climate-neutrality, Multi-Modality, Sustainability: when considering the future of cities, there are lots of areas in need of optimisation. The term “smart city” encompasses all these aspects and has become synonymous for many people with the dynamically interconnected city of tomorrow. This vision can now become reality in the not too distant future! Technology, of course, plays a big role in enabling this realisation of smart city concepts. The internet of things (IoT) enables not only implementation of concepts for smart city sub-elements but also the interconnection among the sub-elements like for example smart water management, smart mobility, smart energy, smart waste management, smart health management and the like. All these together make a ‘connected city’. Smart cost-effective sensors are required to measure dynamically changing parameters like for example air quality. Data is communicated to IT centers for analytics and information provisioning to citizens and other agencies. A strong ICT system is fundamental to the smart city as huge amounts of data need to be transported, stored and analyzed to extract information and act on it. It would indeed be necessary to set up a software platform to which data from disparate systems can be seamlessly transferred, quickly analysed and actions taken. The questions that now arise are, can these measures be implemented in India? Can cities in India be transformed into smart cities? Indeed yes, but every city has to determine how it envisions its future as a smart city and chart out the journey towards it. Of course a city being developed anew has the opportunity to plan for smart city concepts right at the planning phase while developed cities may have to adopt a step-by-step approach. A city in India has a plethora of issues like traffic, road congestion, high energy consumption, administration and healthcare to name a few. A concept like smart city should not be mistaken as a panacea to all these issues but along with strong policies gives hope for a better quality of life for the common citizens. Let us take one element of the smart city – mobility and see how smart city concepts can be implemented and what benefits it brings to people. It is clear that intra-city personal mobility in Indian cities consume a lot of time and also lead to a lot of stress while being highly inefficient. While even the smartest of concepts cannot solve the problems created by under-developed infrastructure, some quick wins with today’s technology offers some relief. How would you feel if you are informed of the scheduled arrival of your bus at your station and also updates you real-time on expected delays and then gives you next best alternate choices of bus! While the basic problem of delay in bus arrival cannot be solved, it at least helps you to decide and take alternate modes of transport. This is possible with today’s technology. Real-time traffic information can be used for short-term analytics to suggest alternate routes as well as for long-term analytics for infrastructure planning. Imagine an ambulance is taking a patient to the hospital on emergency; all traffic intersections can be programmed to allow free passage for the ambulance – helps to bring the patient in time to the hospital and save lives. A multi-modal smart ticketing system makes it convenient for commuters to travel by bus or metro or even by private auto-rickshaws using their smart card. Finding parking space is many a time troublesome, with technology, garages and large parking lots could be connected, and drivers could use an app to see where there are free parking spaces available. Not only will this save drivers and motorists the hassle, it will also allow better control of traffic flows and reduced CO2 emissions, with drivers spending less time searching for a parking space. The transformation from a “normal” city to a “smart city” is more evolution than revolution, and every city has its own pace and its own rules. Ultimately, smart cities are good news for everybody, because as well as running more efficiently for their citizens, interconnected smart cities also use less resources and have smaller ecological footprints.