A smarter city: Dhamodaran Ramakrishnan

Last Updated: Sat, Nov 17, 2012 19:00 hrs

Technology alone cannot improve the quality of lives or solve problems like power, education, transportation or emergency crisis management among others. To resolve these, there has to be a synergy between technology and public policy, argues Dhamodaran Ramakrishnan, director, smarter planet solutions, IBM (India/South Asia). He tells Priyanka Joshi how a new generation of solutions from IBM capitalises on instrumented, interconnected and intelligent capabilities that can be applied virtually on a city’s core systems.

What exactly is the concept of ‘Smarter City’ and why has it become more relevant now?
A smarter city is one that uses technology to transform its core systems and optimise the return from largely finite resources. By using resources in a smarter way, it also boosts innovation, a key factor underpinning competitiveness and economic growth. Every minute, 30 people move from a rural area in India to a city and by 2050, 70 per cent of the people will live in cities. Investment in smarter systems is also a source of sustainable employment. More than half of world’s population lives in cities, and urban population are projected to double by mid-century. With the Smart City initiative, we aim to make cities’ systems more instrumented, integrated and intelligent so that it better serves the needs of businesses and citizens.

Can you cite any example of smarter townships?
IBM is helping Wave Inc, a business group, build a smarter township where clean water, energy, transportation, public safety, education and healthcare will be integrated by a central command centre and managed by smart devices using sensors and other intelligent communication tools. Wave City in Ghaziabad, UP, will record and respond to events faster and anticipate and prevent problems. A resident’s smart device will be alerted to traffic conditions or residents can check parking availability, or even a natural disaster like flooding.

IBM’s Smart Grid initiative will fit in perfectly within smart city paradigm, wouldn't it?
Yes. IBM leads most of the smart grid deployments globally, building intelligence into utilities to lower costs for customers and better balance the grid. Likewise, Enemalta and Water Services Corporation have partnered with IBM to help Malta become the first country to build a nationwide smart grid and a fully integrated electricity and water system. IBM has signed research collaboration with Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras and IIT Kharagpur with the goal of developing systems that help power grids become efficient and resilient. The systems will analyse power grid data for predictive insights and will also help optimise grid utilisation to enhance productivity and reduce power waste.

You have been also running pilots on traffic management within Indian cities. Can you give an update on the same?
In India, we are trying to track a traffic jam by collocating mobile phone density. We will implement it elsewhere in the world if it is successful here. IBM is also working with Brisbane, London, Singapore and Stockholm to deploy smarter traffic systems. Stockholm has seen approximately 20 per cent less traffic, a 12 per cent drop in emissions and a reported 40,000 additional daily users of public transportation.

Do you believe technology can bridge the digital divide in India?
Indeed. Let’s take the case of Amul Dairy, also known as Kheda District Co-operative Milk Producers’ Union, which has around 600,000 registered milk producers. It is the first dairy union to launch Amul Awaz Setu, a spoken web service to connect lakhs of farmers to the dairy union. If a farmer wants to know about the latest schemes rolled out by the union, he can call the voice site (via a toll free number) and link to the relevant voice page.

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