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Driving the wave of Internet of Things for Smart Cities in India

February 10,2017 Read time: 5 mins

Infographic Credit: Siddharth Kankaria / Research Matters

The ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) is the new buzzword in technological corridors with most technology companies announcing a ‘smart’ device of sorts that runs on IoT. In simple terms, IoT is a giant network of connected ‘things’; a network of devices linked to Internet through wired or wireless connections. ‘Things’ could be anything from everyday devices like cell phones, washing machines and wearable devices, to pacemakers, biochips on farm animals, automobiles and industrial machines. It is estimated that, by 2050, a whopping 50 billion such ‘connected’ devices would emerge, dawning a new era of the Internet - one of the most powerful inventions in human history.

So how do the ‘Things’ communicate? We communicate with the Internet by typing, or uploading an image. ‘Things’ communicate through sensors – small devices that detect or measure a physical property like temperature, light, weight, etc.. The sensor can record, communicate, or act upon the information. Various types of sensors are harboured in connected ‘things’; information gathered by them is then transferred across networks facilitated by the interconnections. Such sensors are not new to technologists. But what makes IoT revolutionary is the ability to leverage this ocean of data collected by sensors and constantly analyse it, draw conclusions, make informed decisions and communicate the required action – all in real time. All these steps are autonomous and need no intervention from us. This autonomy makes devices ‘intelligent’, and consequently creates a ‘smart’ world.

Intelligent systems running on IoT would, no doubt, hugely impact the way we live and work. Imagine a world where your car knows the optimum route to your destination with ‘smart’ roads communicating about impending hazards or delays, or a ‘smart’ home with intelligent devices that adapt to you to provide the most comfortable living experience, or buildings and bridges ‘smart’ enough to recognize faults in its structure and avert a major tragedy. These are just trailers of the ‘smart’ world we are yet to see!

Now, imagine a huge entity like a city turning ‘smart’ – all its assets managed effectively, resources like water and electricity utilised optimally, and services delivered efficiently. This may not be a utopic dream for the distant future; it is already a reality in cities like Songdo in Korea and Barcelona in Spain. And coming soon to a city near you, in India.

But what makes a city ‘smart’? Sensors, of course, a lot of them, which connect via IoT and relentlessly collect data; a platform that processes all the data and takes necessary actions. In action, this would mean intelligent street lights that switch on/off based on the light conditions, trash cans that alert the sanitation department when full, traffic lights that auto-adjust to smoothen the traffic flow, parking lots that can be tracked in real-time using mobile based applications -- the list is endless. A definite outcome though, is that the citizens benefit. Smart cities dramatically improve the overall quality of their life.

India’s Smart cities

The Government of India’s ‘smart city mission’ aims to upgrading 100 Indian cities to ‘smart’ cities. The government’s vision of smart cities, as outlined in a statement from the Ministry of Urban Development, is "to promote cities that provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustainable environment and application of ‘smart’ solutions".

Though ambitious, there are many challenges in adapting pioneering technologies like IoT in the Indian context. Bridging the technology gap, ensuring city administrators are up-to-speed on using the new technologies, the need for a standardised framework and architecture, alignment between technology, businesses and policy making, are a few of them.

The good news is that we do not have to look too far to solve them. Strong and active collaboration between researchers who spearhead innovation, governments that forms policy, and industry that creates the business models, infrastructure and services, will help us take up the ‘Indian Smart City Challenge’.

‘Internet of Things for Smart Cities Task Force’ (IoT4SCTF), anchored at the Robert Bosch Centre for Cyber-Physical Systems, Indian Institute of Science, is a testimony to this. It provides a platform for multi-disciplinary, multi-organizational collaboration by being an open forum of experts across academia, government, industry, startups and professional bodies collaborating to help efficient and effective technology enablement of the Indian Smart City Challenge.

The IoT4SCTF comprises of 48 accomplished members from across India and is already laying the groundwork for implementing the IoT paradigm in Indian cities. Of the three constituent work groups, one focuses on use case analysis for IoT solutions in transportation, waste management and water management, the second works on the architecture to create a standardised technology framework, and the third prepares proposals to the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD).

With the smart cities mission set in motion, we are definitely looking at a future where India’s cities leverage technology and the power of a billion connected ‘things’ to become ‘smart’ and future ready.