A smart city is a sustainable and efficient urban centre that provides a good quality of life to its people through optimal management of its resources. Essentially, the “smart” component of a smart city rests on the data captured by sensors and analysed through information and communication technology (ICT) to facilitate real-time decision-making by the concerned authorities. For instance, a city-wide network of sensors can provide real-time information on the movement of citizens, noise and environmental pollution, as well as traffic and weather conditions. This can help the local authorities streamline the city’s operations through better environmental and traffic management, and thereby ensure economic, social and environmental sustainability.

A look at how ICT solutions can be leveraged to meet the various goals envisaged for a smart city…

Smart energy

A key component of the Smart Cities Mission is energy management. A smart city should provide a liveable, affordable and climate-friendly environment to its citizens, and hence must have a suitable energy management framework.

The areas under smart energy management include the deployment of advanced metering infrastructure (smart meters are a new class of remote terminal units with automated communications, remote controls, event logging and reporting), peak load management system, outage management system, superior power quality, distributed generation, microgrid, and supervisory control and data acquisition system.

Power utilities are ideal customers for cloud computing owing to their intermittent and high data storage requirements. Advanced metering infrastructure, analy­tics and customer care applications generate a huge amount of data, which can be stored conveniently on the cloud.

Internet of things (IoT) also plays a key role in efficient energy management. In the smart city of Barcelona, sensors on street lights are connected to the city’s underground fibre network. These are equipped with multiple features including closed-circuit television censors, air qual­ity monitoring sensors and Wi-Fi, and are capable of dynamically managing the level of lighting depending on the surrounding conditions to save energy. The street lights dim when no motion or pedestrians are detected on the street.

In India, several discoms have deployed smart energy solutions. For instance, Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited has set up automated demand response interface that consists of a radio frequency mesh network spread across an area of approximately 250 square km, with 195 smart meters, 35 routers and three collectors. It also includes a meter data management system that is integrated with other information technology and operational technology applications like outage management systems. This helps the discom in managing grid stress situations. BSES has also installed a meter data analytics module to detect meter tampering and power theft. The module analyses the data stored in the meter memory to detect fraudulent use by consumers. It also uses various techniques and maturity models to help detect theft.

Smart mobility

With increasing economic activity and growing urbanisation, several cities are experiencing restrictions to growth in the form of inadequate and inefficient transport systems. In some cities, the basic transport infrastructure is inadequate, while in others, there are huge expansion and upgradation issues. It is imperative for a city to have a robust transport infrastructure in place from both an economic and a sustainability perspective.

The use of intelligent ICT-based solutions can facilitate a seamless, faster and more efficient commuting network in smart cities. The key ICT solutions for mobility include smart cards, passenger information systems, real-time parking management and vehicle tagging/radio frequency identification (RFID). Smart cards facilitate seamless movement throu­gh a single card for ticket/toll payment for various modes of transport. Meanwhile, passenger information systems provide real-time information to passengers using a public transport system. Usually, the expected time of arrival is displayed on electronic signboards at bus stands, metro rail platforms, airports and railway stations. Such information is also available on personal mobile devices. Real-time parking management systems provide information related to available parking lots through a publicity displayed electronic signboard. Mean­while, RFID tagging of vehicles can assist in electronic toll collection (systems that read from a distance and automatically deduct the toll at each entry).

In Barcelona, smart bus stops are connected to the city’s fibre network. They display real-time bus timetables, tourist information and digital advertising, offer USB charging sockets for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, and act as free Wi-Fi hotspots. This allows people to access the internet through their mobile devices while waiting for a bus. The city’s smart parking spots are also connected to the Wi-Fi network and can detect the presence of cars through a combination of light and metal detectors. Moreover, online search for parking slots and payment for smart parking is possible using dedicated smartphone applications.

In India, vehicle sales in the country are increasing at over 10 per cent annually, resulting in congestion and pollution. Moreover, 13 of the world’s most polluted cities are in India. Each of the 33 cities that have been selected under the Smart Cities Mission considers mobility as one of the key focus areas. However, the types of projects vary according to the current level of infrastructure in a given city. Some cities are focusing on infrastructure development while others are planning to make the existing system smarter.

Some cities have already installed smart mobility solutions. For instance, smart cards are used for electronic toll collection and automated parking management systems at some locations in Delhi. Bengaluru has also embarked upon such a plan. Meanwhile, the yet-to-be-operationalised Lucknow Metro Rail Corpo­ra­tion is also planning to launch a “One Card” system to be used for different transport systems in the city.

Smart waste management

The indiscriminate discharge of waste, absence of proper waste disposal and management systems and inefficient waste management policies often cause serious environmental problems in cities. More­over, e-waste (obsolete, discarded, broken, and surplus electrical and electronic devices) is also a growing problem as the industry is unregulated, and recycling can lead to environmental degradation, thus posing a major threat to human health.

Cities can leverage ICT solutions for efficient waste management. For instance, garbage bins can be fitted with sensors to monitor the level of trash. This data can help the waste disposal authorities to plan the optimal routes for garbage collection, provide real-time updates to garbage truck drivers regarding the routes to take, optimise productivity and reduce waste management service costs. Sensors can also be used to detect the presence of hazardous materials that may be dumped in the bin.

The Pune Municipal Corporation has been using the global positioning system (GPS)-based tracking system, ultra high RFID, IoT sensors, and web applications to improve the mechanisms for waste collection and enable efficient processing and recycling of waste. Meanwhile, the Chan­digarh Municipal Corporation has laun­ched a programme, Tracking and Mo­ni­­toring of Municipal Solid Waste, for lifting garbage bins from different parts of the city in a time-bound manner, monitoring the movement of all vehicles, and saving costs in terms of fuel consumption by reducing the number of vehicle trips.

Smart healthcare

In the healthcare sector, ICT applications can help in reducing paperwork, eliminating human error in the documentation of health records, decreasing healthcare costs by way of sharing old e-health records, and bringing down the need for storage space to keep patients’ health records and the staff time needed to maintain those records. Like in other sectors, big data and cloud computing technologies have made inroads into the healthcare sector as well. These technologies can help store and analyse the huge volumes of raw and un­structured data generated from various sources including electronic health recor­ds and hospital information systems.

In addition, with the advent of several smart wearable healthcare devices, cities can monitor the fitness levels and key biometrics of citizens to design optimal health schemes. At present, these wearable devices can monitor basic health indicators such as a person’s heartbeat. However, going forward, efforts are being made to develop non-invasive blood chemistry sensors that would transmit a laser beam to measure glucose levels and other health indicators.

The government’s Digital India initiative is also expected to give a fillip to  technology use in the healthcare sector. In May 2016, the government undertook two such digital initiatives. It introduced an e-CGHS (Central Government Health Scheme) health card for the convenience of pensioners and a GIS-enabled health management information system to monitor the quality of services being offered under the National Health Mission.

Thus, going forward, ICT is expected to play a major role in creating a smart city ecosystem and ensuring the provision of better civic services to citizens.