Editor’s note: The following is a guest post by Dr. Manish Gupta, Chief Technologist, IBM India/South Asia and Director, IBM Research – India
Last week I watched the first episode of a TV series, Ecopolis, on Discovery Channel. The program identifies technology based solutions that will help cities manage the crushing pressure on their resources in the next forty years. The situation in Indian cities is perhaps more pressing.
All of us living in Indian cities experience the pressures of a massively burgeoning population on an inadequate infrastructure. Our metro cities were built at a time when their phenomenal growth could not have been foreseen so the gap between demand and supply for civic services and utilities continues. While there are ways to improve the condition in established cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, and Delhi (which continue to grow at a significant pace), newer cities are surely better placed in terms of building a futuristic, highly scalable infrastructure that can cope with rapid urban proliferation. The right combination of technology and urban policy can lead to far more streamlined urban systems that make a difference to quality of life in our cities of tomorrow.
The IBM Institute for Business Value has published an executive report titled “A vision of smarter cities: how cities can lead the way into a prosperous and sustainable future”. The paper takes a systems view of a city and we see an interplay of the following systems – city services, citizens, business, transport, communication, water and energy. A city services system constitutes the operational activities and coordination of service delivery provided by the municipalities, while the citizens system covers public safety, health and education. A city’s business system refers to the environment that businesses face in terms of policy and regulation. Cities offer citizens and businesses the ability to move things around through their transport systems and share ideas and information through their communication systems. Cities also offer two core utilities necessary for all economic and social activity – water and energy.
If we hope to prepare our cities for explosive urbanization, we need to put existing ones on a journey of becoming ‘smart’ and envision the new emerging towns to leapfrog to a state of optimized urban systems. “Smart” cities know how to transform their systems and optimize the use of finite resources. To help drive efficiency and increase effectiveness they leverage technology to make systems instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent.
Take a basic utility like water. Smart cities are able to connect several independent systems to create datasets that allow the analysis of the volume of sewage from homes and business against the volume of water coming in from ground water or rainfall. Problem areas can be quickly targeted for detailed inspection. This process helps improve the efficiency of sewer systems and reduce environmental impact. Another pressure point is road infrastructure. And when physical infrastructure upgrades go hand-in-hand with an intelligent data system the results can be quite impressive. For example the implementation of Free Flow Tolling in Brisbane yielded a six fold increase in vehicle capacity on a particular motorway, reduced traffic time by up to 10 minutes, reduced traffic incidents by 27% and allows the authorities to provide real time alerts to travelers about congestion, construction, and accidents before they reach the affected area.
India’s urban areas spew 70% of the country’s carbon emissions, out of which 40% is a result of vehicles. Can we design our traffic systems in a way that results in less congestion, and in turn, reduce pollution and minimize greenhouse emissions?
Economic development and responsibility to the environment can and must go hand in hand. India has an over dependence on coal and petroleum based fuels for energy generation. Alternative and renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power are critical to making India energy self sufficient as well as reducing environmental side effects from power generation. The need of the hour is a collaborative approach – involving both the government and public sector – that supports the development of clean and green energy. The government plays an important role by forming supportive policies and enabling entrepreneurial initiatives.
You’ll surely agree that at the rate urbanization is exploding, the problems that megacities of the future will face will be multiples of those we face today. It is time to act. The floor is open for your thoughts and opinions. I look forward to seeing your views on issues related to transport, energy, waste management, food, water and greener buildings.