07 August 2020


Tech-wise cities


Innovation and integration will be the route to take as India plans smart city infrastructure says YOUSEF HAMIDADDIN

Urbanisation is a major challenge facing most developing countries today. There has been an increase in the migration from rural to urban areas, worldwide. According, to a UN Report, 50-70 per cent of India’s and China’s population will be living in cities by the year 2050.

It is estimated that 30 Indians residing in rural areas relocate to cities every minute. At this rate, India will need about 500 new cities to accommodate the influx. Rapid urbanization has led to a strain on physical and social infrastructure giving rise to conflicts and strife. The ever-growing demands on the city infrastructure for better transport, water supply, housing, energy and other vital services will only continue to rise.

The recent announcement by the Government of India to develop ‘100 Smart Cities’ is a well-thought out initiative in response to the problems that plague Indian cities today. Also, there has been a rise in global contests such as Omraan, Holcim Awards and many more that are providing platforms to start-ups and innovators who aim to solve urban issues and promote sustainable construction.

IBM’s ‘Smarter Planet’ campaign started in the year 2008-2009 was one of the firsts that got the entire world talking about the implications of rapid urbanization. Since, then there have been numerous platforms, planners and nations striving to derive solutions that can make our cities livable. Globally, there are some excellent examples that developing countries can take inspiration from – some of them being Toronto, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Copenhagen, Vienna, Cairo etc.

There are several terms that can be used to define smart cities. Simply put, it comprises of a meticulously planned, sustainable and technologically integrated space with dependence on ICT. Digitizing and connecting our systems to analyze and integrate data is a key driver in revitalising existing infrastructure to make it smarter and efficient. Characterised as an urban region, superior in terms of infrastructure, sustainable construction, connectivity and market feasibility; technology forms the crux of smart cities.

A city that is technologically integrated provides for seamless services across basic requirements to complex infrastructure. Be it 24/7 water supply, energy, sanitation to transport and surveillance systems and automated building security; Smart Cities function on data analytics to ensure minimal human intervention. All the data collected is compiled, integrated into a smart grid and then fed into computers that can focus on making the city as efficient as possible. This further allows government authorities access to real-time information and helps balance supply and demand by regulating electricity, water supply and traffic congestion. This might sound futuristic but will soon convert into reality as this phenomenon is gaining a stronger foothold in India.

Success of any smart city will depend on its residents, entrepreneurs and innovators becoming actively involved in creating solutions related to urban problems. With the advancement of technology there are multiple ways to make residential, commercial and public spaces sustainable, however, it largely also depends on the end user and his consumption behaviour. Planners and governments also need to avoid – ‘the one size fits all’ theory here as the concept of Smart Cities varies across nations. A Smart City in Middle East might not be the same as in India. Smart cities can either be horizontal or vertical, depending on the space available. Singapore is an example of a vertical Smart City, while Masdar in Abu Dhabi is a horizontal Smart City.

More than ever, cities will now play a very important role as engines of growth, as India is gearing towards double-digit development. Well-planned cities not only uplift the quality of life, but are also consistent with rapid, inclusive and sustainable growth. If cities are to grow, they need to create a climate conducive to attract investment.


The author is CEO, Oasis500, a leading early stage and seed investment company in the MENA region, nurturing creative ideas in the technology sector.


Encouraging Technovation

Omraan, the global contest for urban tech start-ups, was launched in 2014 by the New Cities Foundation – an international non-profit – and Oasis500, an early stage and seed investment company in Amman, Jordan, with an aim to nurture the most creative and forward-thinking technology start-ups from across the globe, and develop their ideas into concrete projects in Middle Eastern cities, for the benefit of cities worldwide. Omraan has announced its first round of shortlisted applicants that will vie to win $30,000 of seed funding and a 100-day acceleration program in Amman, Jordan. A total of eight outstanding startups and innovators, each with an idea to make cities better through technology, were selected by an international jury to contend for the prestigious award. These include:


Adsvolution (Spain): An interactive information platform in which the user can view topics of interest related to the urban environment. The platform offers advertising services for three types of contracts: interactive, static and video. It also offers the possibility of integrating climate sensors, noise, and pollution, traffic which makes the app fully customized and fits the needs of a city.


AgroCentral (Jamaica): Jamaica’s first digital agricultural clearinghouse utilizing Web-to-SMS/SMS-to-Web technology to connect small farmers and businesses. Through Agrocentral, businesses will have the ability to source large amounts of crops directly from farmers and farmers will be able to sell their available produce directly to businesses.


Cidadao21 (Brazil): A startup focused on reducing bureaucracy and simplifying processes within civic authorities. The Cidadao21 team has created a series of simple technologies that focus on streamlining internal processes and increasing transparency for the benefit of citizens.


Green Power Solutions (Jordan): Offering a comprehensive solution that involves replacing old lighting systems with a Smart-High-Efficiency System, using LED lights instead of the existing HIDs/HPS lights. Their new system is achieved by sensing and reacting to approaching vehicles where lights are only switched on at the presence of vehicles and remain off on empty roads.


LifeBridge (Poland): A Smart City E-Health innovation. The solution will considerably reduce the delay in first-aid response in case of accidents and life threatening situations. With LifeBridge, a non-expert may perform basic life-saving activities before professional emergency response teams arrive at the scene. The application is not a substitute for professional responders, but complementary to them.


Let’s Ride (India): The Pune-based Let’s Ride is a mini social platform for ridesharing that addresses road congestion and commuting problems with an aim to reduce the number of vehicles on roads at peak hours. The idea is to connect people from the same area for ridesharing through a web and mobile application.


Meezan (Jordan): Meezan develops technology solutions for building, farming and energy/water saving for Jordan and the Arab World. It combines five systems in one unit that incorporates eco-farming, solar renewable energy production, rainwater harvesting, a shading system and a rooftop insulation system.


UFE (Ireland): Urbanflow Engine is a new kind of planning and analysis software to collaboratively design better plans for urbanization with the power of data. It introduces state-of-the-art geospatial technology to enable collaborative urban planning.

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