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The cities of tomorrow are built on data

May 19, 2020

Praveen Arora   

Vice President - Internet of Things (Business Unit), Tata Communications

If you live in a city, chances are, you are quite familiar with these scenarios: it takes you 40 minutes to travel five kilometres, you stand in long queues to simply get cash out of an ATM and the only way you can effectively follow social distancing is by locking yourself indoors because there is no way you can keep six feet distance from people out on the streets. In this blog, Tata Communications’ Praveen Arora, Vice President – Internet of Things (Business Unit), explains why these are only some of the unique challenges of mass urbanisation; or, everyday life as you know it.

In 2018, United Nations recorded that 55% of the world’s population is living in urban areas, and this is expected to increase to 68% by 2050. India already has 34% of its population occupying urban areas. And every year, this percentage increases. However, a looming question remains – how will these urban cities effectively support basic needs of this ever-growing population while also ensuring sustainable opportunities, growth, and resources for everyone , and more so today,  in terms of ensuring safety  during this pandemic.

“With the increasing number of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and devices deployed across urban areas, the solution could very well lie within the data gathered from these cities. If analysed regularly and accurately, data could offer insights on your city’s strengths and pain points to facilitate informed decision making that can help create an equitable lifestyle.”

This is where predictive analytics play a crucial role – helping cities improve mobility, infrastructure and resource management in a cost-effective manner.

Identify the patterns and then break them

Predictive analytics can unlock hidden patterns. Imagine if we could forecast how traffic on a street is impacted due to monsoon or how rescheduling the sequence of traffic signals by few seconds can reduce the number of cars, resulting in less pollution. Multiple simple and effective solutions can be identified through analytics.

“During these times, we have seen few countries who have been able to track and fight the pandemic by conducting timely analysis of data generated through IoT devices in real-time. They have successfully leveraged data science to develop a monitoring system to identify and assess every citizen’s travel history and the level of exposure to the virus.”

Several other cities have also explored the potential of predictive analytics to bring positive changes for its citizens. Los Angeles is using data to maintain clean streets, water management, assess and enhance diversity in police recruits, increase participation in sports and many other such initiatives. Barcelona has installed smart irrigation systems across parks and gardens to gauge humidity levels underground and effectively assess water requirements. This exercise resulted in saving 600,000 litres of water annually. These are just two of the many cities deploying intelligent, data-driven solutions to address everyday challenges, thereby benefiting the environment, people and ultimately, economy.

A safer, sustainable society

India is taking note of these best practices across geographies and making its way to exploring the wonders of analytics. The Government of India’s Smart Cities Mission has received further allocation of INR 6450 crore this fiscal and the addition of five new cities to the list of existing 100 smart cities. Predictive analytics will be the foundation for the success of smart cities by addressing critical areas such as public safety, upgraded mobility and more.

  • Public safety

Insights from real-time crime mapping can help in identifying high crime-prone zones in the city and such data can be immensely helpful during crisis situations by means of equitable resource distribution for problem-solving. According to McKinsey, cities that deploy the right technological applications could reduce crime rates and fatalities by as much as 10%. The same solution can be applied to monitor areas with highest COVID cases and build strategies around treating each and every individual curbing the spread of the virus.

  • Employee or worker safety

To enhance the employee or worker safety, the predictive analysis is being used to determine safe distancing as well as avoiding safety incidents by understanding patterns how an individual navigates in a given work environment. The predictive safety solution is also being considered in safe social distancing norms for resuming business operations in some smart cities post COVID-19 restart.

  • Upgraded mobility

Enhancing urban mobility has been one of India’s top concerns. And why not? If we look at Bengaluru, it’s the most traffic-congested city in the world. Data enables real-time traffic monitoring and control to understand the connection between modes of transport for faster travel times by recognising patterns and highlighting the root causes, reducing operational cost and increasing efficiency.

  • Effective waste management

India generates over 62 million tonnes of solid waste every year. The analysis of the waste generation pattern as per the area, season and times the dustbin is filled to a decided level can help build an area wise strategy to collect waste. This can help in reducing cost, manpower, overflowing of waste, and reduction of carbon emission.

  • Sustainability and growth

Data analytics allows cities to monitor and manage an extensive range of infrastructure and to use predictive maintenance in the right areas to minimise costs, risks and carbon footprints. It also has a role to play across all aspects of public service and city operations. Think about the impact of providing energy-efficient buildings, air quality sensors and renewable energy resources that result in higher operational efficiencies and a decrease in environmental damage.

“A simple insight based on usage data and seasonal patterns can suggest best mode of energy optimisation from a renewable source or a simple control of smart street lights or building lighting control based on movement can significantly reduce carbon footprints. For instance with discussions around malls, shops and eateries to be open for 24/7 in Mumbai, here predictive analytics can monitor the number of footfalls.”

The data can aid owners of the premises and authorities to strategies the workforce, usage of electricity and the success ratio of this initiative. As the smart city projects make their journey from innovation to regulation, there are many hurdles we are yet to overcome. India has reached the experimentation stage, where both government and businesses have started to leverage advanced technologies.

While there is no end to the data generated by cities, gathering, storing and analysing data requires robust infrastructure and experienced human capital. Yet, we must start… and start now. For a country to achieve equitable resource distribution is the first but crucial step to paving way for the right social and economic opportunities.

Discover more about how IoT lays the foundations for the buildings of the future.