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For The People, With The People: How Cutting-Edge Visualisation Technologies Will Play A Major Role In Facilitating The Smart Cities Mission

Cities are defined and shaped by the people that inhabit them. With the population in Indian cities expected to cross 600 million by the beginning of the next decade, this means that there will be more than 600 million active stakeholders in the growth of urban India

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Smart cities – the very word brings alive an image of seamlessly efficient urban centres powered by futuristic technology. With more than 100 cities across the country expected to be retrofitted with a smarter urban infrastructure under the Smart Cities Mission, that this image has caught the nation’s fancy is not surprising. Challenges in policymaking, urban planning, operations and development, which have traditionally inhibited the growth of Indian cities, are expected to be addressed. Better collaborations between various stakeholders are also expected to optimise service delivery and greatly improve the standard of living. That progress will be made is almost unquestioned – all that remains to be answered is how much. But bringing the vision of these new-age urban centres to fruition will require smart cities to connect with perhaps their most important stakeholders: the citizens.

Cities are defined and shaped by the people that inhabit them. With the population in Indian cities expected to cross 600 million by the beginning of the next decade, this means that there will be more than 600 million active stakeholders in the growth of urban India. Involving them as active participants in the smart dialogue as contributors and end-users will, therefore, be extremely pivotal. But given the fragmented and inefficient condition of most public information systems across the country, how do urban planners, service providers, administrators, policymakers, and service enablers achieve this? The answer to this conundrum lies in three words – interconnected visualisation technologies. 

Consider a situation where every on-road vehicle in the city is connected to a centralised traffic control room through a mobile application. All a driver needs to do to gain access to real-time data about the city’s traffic conditions is to enter the origin/destination and preferred route into the application. This information is then processed by the control room to generate the most optimal driving routes, as well as to provide information about possible traffic bottlenecks and prospective parking spots. Operators in the centralised control room, on the other hand, will gain greater by-the-minute visibility about on-road deployment, which will allow them to streamline traffic flow to ensure smoother vehicle mobility. 

This interconnectivity between the city and the citizen through state-of-the-art visualisation solutions can significantly reduce the burden on the existing urban infrastructure; various research findings indicate that optimising the utilisation of parking spaces in large cities can reduce on-road traffic by as much as 40 per cent. Lower traffic congestion means that pollution and carbon emissions will also be decreased, improving the standard of living whilst lowering the financial burden of environmental degradation on the city’s government. What’s more, policymakers and city planners can use the data generated to make much more informed and appropriate decisions.

Another scenario worth exploring in this context is that of urban energy consumption. Connected visualisation solutions will allow control room operators with both macro and micro-level data about the city’s energy consumption. This information can be used to extrapolate projections and trends to identify and forecast energy demand patterns for individual households as well as geographical sectors across the city. Minute-by-minute updates also enable better visibility over current demand and sudden demand surges, allowing smart cities to optimise their energy utilisation and minimise wastage. In a country like India, which was estimated to have wasted 3 million units of energy in 2014-15 fiscal alone, this can play a major role in meeting the nation’s future energy demand, expected to cross 1500mtoe (million tonnes of oil equivalent) by 2030.

There is a genuine sense of excitement amongst key stakeholders in the public and the private domain about the Smart Cities Mission. This initiative, if successfully implemented, can propel India onto a global stage as a future-ready, technologically driven nation. Achieving that, however, will require the involvement of urban citizens as active participants in the smart dialogue, both as contributors and as end-users. Interconnected technologies and networked visualisation solutions can play a major role in facilitating these conversations between smart citizens and smart cities, paving the way for a tech-enabled urban infrastructure and aiding in the realisation of the vision of smarter, better India.

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. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Rajiv Bhalla

The Author is Managing Director at Barco Electronic Systems

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