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View from India: Powering up the tech-enabled cities of the future

The upcoming rural-urban migration will lead to rapid urbanisation and young adults will represent a significant portion of the population demographics. Both factors will give rise to new city models. Strategically, this shift will be facilitated by Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and data analytics.

The Government of India (GoI) has drawn up an official list of 100 smart cities across various states. Work has already begun on the ‘Smart Cities Mission’. 

There’s a need felt for expanding the spectrum of urban living spaces because of an increasing migration from rural to urban India. In addition to the smart cities, state governments are going that extra mile to create new cities. Another dimension is that the existing cities are being technologically upgraded.

All these are cities of the future. Their ecosystem is tech-enabled and intelligent. Renewable energy is being tapped and citizen services digitised. Data and artificial intelligence (AI) are being leveraged to chalk out a multimodal transit-oriented cityscape that will also include tree canopies. Adequate open spaces and pedestrian-friendly streets are also part of the design sensibilities.

One wishes that a digital 3D copy or digital twin of the upcoming cities will be created for designers, planners and policy makers to create practical living spaces.

Happiness agreeably is one’s own calling. When a state government is laying out a city to make its citizens happy and healthy, it calls for attention. The city has been visualised as a place that holistically offers solutions to all its citizens. Subsequently, it spreads happiness and its people are healthy. That’s Amaravati in a nutshell.

Amaravati - aka the People’s Capital of Andhra Pradesh (AP) - is creating a new benchmark in the upcoming city spaces. Its futuristic features have been conceptualised and executed by Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA).

The planned city covers an area of 8,353sq/km. It is located on the southern banks of the Krishna River in Guntur district, within the Andhra Pradesh Capital Region, being built on a 217sq/km riverfront designed to have 51 per cent of green spaces and 10 per cent of water bodies.

In order to generate employment, create a talent pool and bolster economic growth locally, Amaravati has been divided into Theme Cities. The master plan of the city is divided into nine economic grids: Government City, Knowledge City, Tourism City, Health City, Electronic City, Finance City, Media City, Sports City and Justice City. Every neighbourhood in these cities will have educational institutions and healthcare facilities, along with recreational services and amenities.

Already, planned investments are underway in the economic hubs. They are expected to contribute to the economic growth of the state and country at large.

In a unique move, Amaravati has introduced a Land Pooling Scheme (LPS) with farmers who have given 33,000 acres of land.  

Greenfield city Amaravati is a work in progress. In December 2018, AP chief minister Chandrababu Naidu laid the raft foundation for the State Secretariat building complex towers. With a district cooling system, the building will be energy efficient.

Amaravati is sustainable and smart, with digital infrastructure and has features of a smart city. This human-centric city is a template for others to emulate.

Elsewhere, Jamshedpur - an industrial city in Jharkhand - is undergoing a makeover. Internet of things (IoT) enabled applications are being doled out to improve utility services like water, power and waste management for its population of over one million people. E-billing and e-payments are among other factors.

This is a JUSCO initiative. Carved out of Tata Steel from its Town Services Division in 2004, JUSCO has been established to provide services as an integrated entity. Technology assistance in the form of specialised communication networks called LoRaWANs (Low Power Wide Area Networks or LPWANs) comes from Tata Communications.

Water levels are monitored through sensors. Many of the IoT projects are in proof of concept (PoC) stage and are in the process of being scaled up for a population of over a million.

Shared mobility, autonomous vehicles and renewable energy will all converge to redefine many processes in the auto industry. From prototyping to commercial deployment, technology will be paramount for the multi industry convergence. A combination of technologies will facilitate vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity and energy efficiency. Machine learning will create new dimensions of test challenges. This transformation within the auto industry needs to be viewed as an opportunity for innovation as well as R&D initiatives in 5G, standardisation platforms, scalable architecture, test system software and hardware.

Vehicle telematics will have connectivity control units that connect to mobile servers of consumers. Vehicle tracking, route planning, alerts, fuel usage and geo fencing are among the features that vehicle telematics will offer.

Auto companies will collaborate with vendors and software-centric companies. Through this, tech tools and data analytics will be utilised to predict the energy requirement. As a natural progression, shared and connected vehicles will lead to better mobility. Economists across nations believe that when mobility improves, the economy also grows. 

Come April 2020 and the Bharat Stage (BS) VI emission norms will come into effect. It means vehicles of the future will have to comply with the emission standards that have been set by GoI. This has been done to keep a check on pollution levels emitting from the combustion engines.

Furthermore, GoI is in the process of creating an ecosystem for electric vehicles (EVs). A subsidy will be granted for the promotion of hybrid cars. As a long-term measure, EVs are expected to lower the dependence on oil imports.

This prospect notwithstanding, procedures are being simplified. A mandate has been passed to the effect that public charging stations (PCS) can be established even without a license. The only requirement is that the PCS needs to meet the guidelines and standards for EVs charging infrastructure set by the power ministry and the Central Electricity Authority (CEA).

Just as 2018 came to a close, the transport ministry has announced its decision to alter the license rules of motor vehicles. Individuals 16-18 years of age will be given a license to ride electric scooters. The speed limit, at the maximum, is 70kmph, while the motor power at the outer limit will be four kilowatts (4kWh).

In December 2018, the Delhi government has kick-started trial runs of eBuzz K9. This is a 12-metre electric bus from Olectra-BYD, which commercially plies electric buses in a few states. The eBuzz K9 is a zero-emission, noise-free bus with a 36-seat capacity. It can run up to 300km on a single recharge.

Talking about commuting, there seems to be some relief for autorickshaw commuters in Delhi. The official fare model indicated by the Delhi Traffic Police will be reflected through the Google Maps app on Android devices. This means commuters don’t have to overpay for navigating unknown routes.

While we are heading towards intelligent vehicles, let’s hope the developments in the auto world lead to intelligent highways as well.

Up in the air, smart connected cabins, pilotless flights and autonomous attendants are among the forthcoming highlights in aviation. Cargo systems will become intelligent. With intelligent cargo systems and connectivity, high-value inspection will be the order of the day.

Along with this, data analytics will be tapped for flight scheduling and airport related obstacles in real time. There will be a proliferation of UAVs (unmanned aircraft vehicles). 

Flights of the future will include features like integrated control and propulsion, assisted network controls and semi-autonomous operations. Inspection related work will be carried out by drones.

Test systems will be fine-tuned through software, artificial intelligence (AI) autonomous systems and adaptive reconfigurable controls.

Innovation in electrification, electromagnetic battlefields and digitally connected platforms has led to increasing agility in design, compressed schedules and smaller teams. This will bring a paradigm shift in aviation.

In sync with aviation is the world of space. In December 2018, VFI had reported that Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) - the primary space agency of the Indian government - is gearing up for Gaganyaan Project, India’s first human-space flight. The latest news is that the Union Government has allocated a budget of Rs 10,000 crore for the project.

However, the number of astronauts to be sent for the Gaganyaan Project is yet to be finalised. As per media reports, ISRO intends to send a humanoid-robot to space before the actual manned mission takes place.

At another level, ISRO will use the Government’s budgetary allocation for developing technologies for the human-space flight and for setting up an astronaut training facility in Bangalore.

Meanwhile, strange truths frequently emerge from the world of internet and social media. Many such nuggets of information turn out to be fake news. However, the rate at which fake news spreads through WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter has brought about a fair share of concern. This will give rise to authentication and verification tech-based tools. Already, many start-ups and entrepreneurs are using data-verification tools to glean news and siphon out genuine information. This segment is expected to grow. A growth driver is the General Elections that will be held in India between April and May 2019 to constitute the 17th Lok Sabha.

An interesting move in this direction is industry-institute collaboration. The Information Retrieval and Extraction Lab (IREL) at International Institute of Information Technology-Hyderabad (IIIT-H) has collaborated with Gramener, a data-visualisation start-up to work on a scalable real-world solution. The outcome is Fake-o-Meter, a content authentication solution for detecting fake news.

Fake-o-Meter is a web engine where one can copy the tweet or headline of a news story and submit to get a colour-coded response in percentage terms on authenticity. Lower percentages are coded green indicating the news has low probability of being fake; higher percentages are coded with amber/red, indicating a high degree of fakeness. Using a combination of machine-learning algorithms and sophisticated natural-language processing, the tool looks at the actual content itself and the manner in which the content is being propagated.

Previous research has already demonstrated that fake news is more likely to use language that is subjective, emotional and hyperbolic. The tool works for many languages, such as Spanish and Chinese. It includes various forms of online content including blogs, news stories, tweets and genres like bizarre news, hate speech (hate-o-meter) and click-baits.

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