Tech Mahindra CEO C.P. Gurnani on smart cities and the making of a better world

The symbiotic relationship between humans and technology is showing greater promise every day. In 2020, when the world needed a solution for continuing business as usual during a global pandemic, technology delivered. Technology is at the crux of pretty much everything we do. As humans, our own evolution has become fundamentally intertwined with technology. In no area is that more true than with respect to our cities, which are becoming smart with the help of human-centric technology. India has led the charge, having transformed urban centres including Indore, Bhopal, and Surat into world-leading smart cities. There are, however, countless other examples around the world of cities that have made strides in implementing technology such as the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G, and clever applications of artificial intelligence (AI). Below are just some examples of how we can apply technology to truly transform not just business, but also our everyday lives, to create a better and more sustainable world. Modernising infrastructure to improve efficiency Smart cities underpinned by ultrafast, low latency 5G connectivity will power a more connected community and create opportunities. This has already been achieved in places like Kanpur City, where connected technology is being used to manage air pollution and enable individuals to book public sector appointments or manage their utilities. These initiatives are creating safer, cleaner, and more efficient urban infrastructures.

Better connectivity via 5G will also boost the adoption of IoT for new and emerging use cases in public spaces. These include improving access to public entities such as libraries and hospitals, accelerating telehealth and e-consultations, and helping to maintain continued social distancing measures. Innovations such as mobility-on-demand, wherein vehicles can be routed in real time to meet the demand for picking up and delivering passengers amid fast-varying environments, can help in exploiting the unused vehicle capacity to reduce congestion. This is possible through the creation of dynamic optimisation algorithms created using real-time information and communication technologies. Smart technologies can also be applied to functions such as traffic management, which has been achieved in Gandhinagar, a city that uses distributed sensors to monitor traffic density and speed to improve the flow of vehicles and road safety. Similarly, 5G-connected public transport enhanced with AI and automation capabilities can help to maintain vehicle health in real-time. With the ability to predict mechanical failures before they happen, public transport companies can reduce breakdown rates and ensure passengers get to their destinations on time. One such project offered operators savings of between $7.5-12 million per vehicle in maintenance costs, and delivered faster, more efficient and ultimately more reliable modes of transport for city dwellers.

C.P. Gurnani

Nagpur, one of the smartest cities in India, is embracing technology to support waste management and crime reduction. The city started a waste separation project, where organic waste such as food is segregated and then repurposed at a waste-to-fertiliser plant. Meanwhile, street sweepers and garbage trucks are geotagged for reliable tracking. To achieve this, location-tracking devices and cameras were mounted on the garbage trucks to collect real-time information and capture images of bin collection. Furthermore, the city’s 7,000 street sanitation workers are equipped with GPS-enabled watches and waste bins are RFID-tagged and sensor-equipped to allow individual bins to be identified so that their collection can be accurately recorded. Integrating sustainability for long-term value creation Beyond improving infrastructure, transport, and access to services, IoT projects have the potential to encourage greener, more sustainable lifestyles. For instance, next-generation LED street lights can be a host for sensing technologies that can collect data on weather, pollution, seismic activity, and noise and air pollution. By connecting these intelligent street poles to a network, it would be possible to generate insights for innovative solutions for public safety. In India, the smart cities have started utilising green tech to address the risks of water scarcity, which is predicted to become a significant problem by 2050 globally. For example, the UJALA & Street Lighting National Programme has already successfully saved 7.67 billion kWh per year since its inception, with an estimated GHG (greenhouse gases) emission reduction of 5.29 million tonnes CO2 per year. Sustainable living encompasses social considerations too, in addition to environmental concerns. Although smart technologies have been used to reduce crime rates by almost a quarter in Hyderabad, it is still an area of concern. With greater levels of connectivity everywhere, security must be a priority. City planners hoping to implement citywide IoT plans should build robust, secure networks to ensure online safety for users – and to ensure security from a national perspective, should work with companies with good governance structures and practices. Workplace 2.0: the workforce of the new normal Most business leaders are already familiar with the basic efficiency benefits that improved connectivity offers with regard to administrative and logistical tasks. That said, it’s more than a matter of making tasks easier. The next generation of IoT in offices and industry has the power to increase employee engagement and happiness by creating seamless experiences. Smart thermostats, smart lighting, smart locks and handy voice assistants will not only help to ensure high levels of hygiene and safety in the workplace, particularly post-COVID-19, but also can help create an ideal environment for productivity to grow. To power workplace IoT, 5G connectivity will be a prerequisite. City planners and employers alike should be mindful that for many employees, working from home, whether full-time or part-time, remains a viable option. As such, reliable and fast 5G connections will need to be available in both urban and rural environments, empowering everyone to work without connectivity barriers.