Smart cities: How technologies like mobility and IoT can transform our cities

Newer technologies like mobility and IoT have to be executed correctly so that Modi’s vision of smart cities can radically enhance the way our urban spaces operate.

IDG Staff Jan 09th 2018 A-A+

The grand vision of the government led by Narendra Modi for Smart Cities has the biggest challenge of transforming conservative mindsets into a tectonic technology enabler ecosystem. Most people will use information, which they access from the smartphone in their hands. This is driving IT engineers and startups to explore opportunities and challenges over the next five years. Whether it is rural India or urban spaces, the biggest challenges lie in public security and transportation and preparing an infrastructure to enable the entire ecosystem to function, and self-correct.

Big data analytics and IoT will drive efficiency

Can the concept of a ‘smart city’ have a self-correcting solution when the population increases in dense spaces? Singapore and Dubai are prime examples where technology, rapid transport systems, and updated security are attracting people to live there. In terms of transportation an island city like Singapore is constantly experimenting. Currently, driverless cars have hit the roads to see how it helps people to move in peak hours effortlessly. This city also has the maximum number of government-led e-initiatives.

For example, the initiative can also detect if someone is smoking in a prohibited area. They have developed sensors to detect snoring problems in the elderly. AI is being used to make milestones in life easier-like obtaining a birth certificate, or even applying for a passport. Time saving apps have been introduced to find parking space, traffic control systems and optimize patterns. Dubai has its own benchmarks as an emerging smart city.

Its development vision again has a strong government support. Smartphone penetration is 78 percent and is apt for making app-based projects successful. Connectivity for public in times of crisis or simple traffic is valued. They have introduced self-driving police and it has been done with a Singapore-based collaboration. They use cameras fitted in the cars and have drones with sensors and fingerprint scanning features. 

In India, however, there are multiple challenges. At the same time, various opportunities can be created to help the public if the current government chooses to emulate the development models of Singapore and Dubai. Cities of similar sizes (like in Dubai and Singapore) can be used as experiments for public security and transportation. The experiment can also tackle other important and basic needs like waste management and recycling as done in other smart cities.

The challenges

Adoption of the smart devices is still unstable. While engineers are able to produce solutions for windows and LAMP, they are still experimenting with the iOS and Android platforms, which are widely used. Building apps to help people (such as to navigate dense traffic during peak hours or hailing an Uber/Ola cab) is still in early stages.

Today app downloads come with their own security challenges. The next generation of mobile phones is likely to have more apps and the instances of wrong reactions and responses will be high. Users will have to learn and adopt new methods to use business data. And finally innovation will be strictly driven by the needs to solve business problems.

Transforming Indian cities

India has become a case study for various global startups and IT leaders to experiment the success of enterprise mobility. Although the rural population still is larger than the urban areas, the concept of smart cities is focused on smaller towns and satellite metros. IoT is already enabling big data for efficiency.

The biggest and largest mobile exercise was used in 2016 during a large Indian festival in Maharashtra where pilgrims were able to connect to their mobile phones to find toilets and makeshift police stations to recover lost things. Lesser children got lost and the month-long festivities ensured that it gave enough opportunities to bigger companies to learn how technology could be used for such big-ticket events whether they were religious, sporting or concerts.

Sustainable transportation and improved quality of life

Safe roads and security at night for women is important. Any technology that targets to keep women safe will be a winner in a smart city. In some urban locations like commercial districts, tourism spots the parking space can be leveraged to enable mobility solutions. This will include payment of fares to cabs, private transport or even government transport via mobile payments. The other facilities will include safety warnings to masses during freak weather conditions, monsoons and during violent incidences.

The above opportunities are applicable when new smart cities are formed.  For the existing infrastructure of current metros, a retrofitted model is recommended. If quality of life can be improved in other cities globally why can’t we do it in India? With a combination of mobile and other technologies that ride the Internet we can transform the way our cities function, providing sustainability and a quality of life our people deserve.