Technology for future cities

Future cities will witness an influx of advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, 5G, Internet of Things, Geospatial Technology and Cloud Computing. However, city leaders in India need to be cautious of their usage based on their requirement, capacity and suitability in a specific urban environment. Any technology integration should put citizens at the centre. The adoption of modern technology should improve civic services in a city, bring the concept of the smart city closer to citizens and enable an inclusive and sustainable urban environment

The integration of advanced technology in the existing urban management at all levels will remain in focus in years to come. According to a report by IDC on Spending on Smart Cities (Worldwide), spending on smart cities technology will be about $135 billion by 2021. I am hopeful that 2019 will see a lot of new projects being rolled out on the ground. The beginning of a new year provides us with an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past and start afresh. This year and further on, technological advancements in various domains of urban operations will keep adding value to existing infrastructure and delivery systems and will provide a chance to local corporations to correct their mistakes in different areas of operation. This article will focus on some of the technologies which have already arrived or are about to arrive in our cities and make people’s lives better.

5G Technology

Easy availability of fast internet on mobile phones has revolutionized the way information travels between people-people, people-machines and machines-machines. In the last couple of years, the speed of mobile internet has seen a significant improvement from 2G to 4G in India. And, the affordability of smartphones and reduction in prices of monthly rentals accelerated the internet penetration among lower-middle and low-income groups. This has certainly augmented the efforts of the government to reach out to people digitally. The next revolution in this space is going to be the availability of 5G technology. This will improve the efficiency of many services which are related to data collection and transfer. 2019 may see the beginning of 5G in India. It is the next generation of mobile internet connectivity, offering fast and reliable speed. But it is not just speed; 5G offers far greater latency (network response time) and the ability to connect gadgets and sensors too, not just phones. Any technology that we have mentioned in the introduction cannot function well in the absence of robust network speed. The network will propel Internet of Things (IoT) technology which requires huge amounts of data transfer.

IoT and Sensor-based technology

Integrated Traffic Management System, security systems of smart cities and delivery of many civic services are expected to be connected with Command and Control Centers of Smart Cities. The implementation of IoT will require embedding of sensors in many types of equipment and devices being used in smart city eco-system.
Sensors are embedded in every physical device that makes up the Internet of Things. In layman’s language, a lot of devices will be connected to the Internet and will continuously transfer data for better decision making at a centre. Seamless data collection using sensors will enable data analysis as a support system for decision making for key projects and programs.
At a small level, Smart Homes has begun witnessing advanced connectivity of smart devices, wearables, smart home appliances and services, medical devices, connected vehicles, smart entertainment, smart lighting, smart buildings, etc. The technology has made life easier in homes and if implemented at a large scale, it can provide smart solutions to almost every problem in our cities.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

We have already started experiencing AI in our lives. Siri and Alexa have already ventured into our lives as our virtual assistants through iOS and Android devices. They keep learning about our needs, behaviours and action patterns based on our usage of mobile phone and produce results based on this learning.
An editorial in UK-based newspaper Guardian explains Artificial Intelligence. It says, “Artificial intelligence is a term whose meaning constantly recedes. Computers, it turns out, can do things that only the cleverest humans once could. But at the same time, they fail at tasks that even the stupidest humans accomplish without conscious difficulty. At the moment the term is mostly used to refer to machine learning: the techniques that enable computer networks to discover patterns hidden in gigantic quantities of messy, real-world data. It’s something close to what parts of biological brains can do.”
Many futuristic projects such as driverless cars, face-recognition programs and smart speakers are enabled by AI. AI-based applications are now available in healthcare. The apps can diagnose diseases and improve public health, control traffic and assist parking, monitor public safety, process control in manufacturing and in online retail. All these have significant implications for urban local bodies and for management of citizen services.

Robotics

Integrating robots in urban spaces is rapidly transforming some of the advanced cities in the world into real smart cities. Robots can work in a wide range of fields where a human cannot go. Cleaning of sewers is one of the dangerous works executed by sanitation employees. The robots can be given such works. Recently, Urban Update published a news report saying some cities are planning to deploy fire-fighting robots.
Cities such as Dubai, Tokyo, Amsterdam, and Singapore are examples of how robots can be helpful in urban operations. According to a news report, Japan is expected to introduce robot taxis for the tourists travelling to the country for the Olympic Games. They are also planning to introduce ‘social robots’ that will be able to communicate with tourists in over 20 languages and can function as translators for foreigners.

Easy availability of fast internet on mobiles has revolutionized the way information travels between people-people, people-machines & machines-machines. In RECENT years, the mobile internet has seen an improvement from 2G to 4G in India. And, the affordability of smartphones and low prices of monthly rentals boosted the internet usage among middle and low-income groups. This has certainly augmented the efforts of the government to reach out to people digitally

Challenges

Technology comes with its own set of challenges. When the number of devices collecting data is increasing by the day, the privacy of users’ data is also becoming a big concern. Studies suggest, over 50 billion devices will be connected by 2020 including a billion cameras. These devices will feed data to AI platforms. If the citizen privacy is to be protected, a new set of policies has to be introduced for the people who are in control of our data because every search, every move, every test informs a merchant, authority, or insurer. The advertisements visible on your social media accounts are a good example. In 2018, Facebook was in the news over alleged privacy violations and its CEO had to apologise in public. Hope, we learn from our counterparts and create a strong data collection ecosystem where citizens get the best of the facilities without compromising their personal data. India has a good opportunity to become a leader in this
area because it is developing a lot of things in urban areas from scratch.

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