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Jaimon Joseph
Thursday , October 18, 2012 at 00 : 12

Building smarter cities


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It isn't everyday that an entire city is designed from the ground up. Ten years ago, New Songdo in South Korea was basically, a muddy, man made island. $35 billion later, in 2015, it will bristle with skyscrapers. Less obvious will be the fact that almost every square inch of the city - from traffic lights to room plumbing, will be covered by digital sensors, all reporting to a central control room - the brain of the city.

Business, in some ways, is the art of peddling dreams. Just a few years back, making entire cities wi-fi enabled, was the dream being peddled to wide-eyed Indian city planners. Then came the idea of carpeting cities with closed circuit televisions, to tackle terrorism. Computer controlled traffic planning of course, became a reality a long time ago in cities like New York and Toronto.

But now the action's moved further - the idea now is to monitor and control everything in a city remotely. The central idea is that a connected, smart city would be more energy and space efficient, more responsive to accidents, more able to handle the massive influx of people moving in from villages to urban centres.

Lavasa, near Pune in India was visualized as a networked city - and Cisco, the same company that's wiring Korea's New Songdo, has already made its presence felt there.

Now IBM, among the world's oldest companies in the field of computing and automation is stirring the pot. Among the most high profile cities they're wiring - Rio de Janeiro, host to the 2016 Olympics. By embedding sensors in the strangest of places, including under manhole covers, their operations centre is able to anticipate and prepare for heavy rains, flash floods, landslides, power outages, traffic hazards - basically almost everything.

And the same good folks are now trying to woo India. At a massive gig inaugurated by Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda a few weeks back, IBM pulled out all stops - showing off all sorts of glitzy technology to revolutionise Indian cities.

But is India ready for such technology? Reports in just the last ten days point to street furniture in Chandini Chowk, lamp post bolts near Noida and telecommunication cables in the military's Delhi Cantonment area being stolen by vandals. Imagine the fun they would have with a computer chip enabled manhole cover.

The other problem is politics. Unlike metro projects, which deliver an easily understandable service to citizens and hence get public support, despite their high costs, it would be hard for any politician to justify the enormous amounts needed to build smart cities. Especially in the current political climate, with Keriwal Vs Vadra being played out on our TV screens.


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More about Jaimon Joseph

I've always been scared around gadgets and software. And in awe of people who're good with them. After three years of science and tech reporting though, I think I'm starting to get the hang of things. Before this, I covered automobiles, health, careers and business, for seven years. Nice thing about technology is, it lets me poach into all those fields once in a while. I love this job. But I'm not sure how I managed to land it. I did my BA in Advertising from Delhi College of Arts and Commerce and MA in Journalism from Madurai Kamaraj University. I wanted to be a cartoonist, a guitar player and a footballer but sucked in all those fields. I can play the flute and harmonica though. And I have an interest in machines that move - it was cars and bikes earlier but considering there's nothing revolutionary happening there, it's military stuff now. I'm the sort who drools over figures. Not the 36-24-36 types. But top speed, acceleration, fuel consumption, drag co-efficient. I drive an Alto though. And usually take the Metro to work.
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