Gujarat: showing the way for India's smart cities?

Imagine this: you get up in the morning and use touch panels to open the blinds. Ditto for turning on the lights.

In the rest of the house, cameras and motion sensors allow a wireless IT network to figure out what inhabitants are doing and respond accordingly.For example, if you're going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, sensors will enable the lights on the way to the bathroom from the bedroom.

Sounds like something out of a high-tech movie? Don't scoff, they're slowly becoming reality now.

It's called 'smart' technology and bit by bit, is becoming a part of urban design in India. For proof, consider the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT), which, if successful, promises to make smart technology more mainstream in urban life.

Work on the Rs 78,000 crore high-tech financial centre has just begun, according to The Economic Times, and by the time the first phase is completed in three-and-a-half years, will have implemented some nifty smart technology, at least on a small scale, never seen before in India.

So, what exactly is a smart city? Put simply, it's a city whose core infrastructure is information technology, as opposed to the conventional definition of roads, bridges, water and power supplies and buildings.

 Gujarat: showing the way for Indias smart cities?

A smart city's core infrastructure is IT, as opposed to the conventional definition of roads, bridges, water and power supplies and buildings. Photo courtesy: giftgujarat.in

In smart cities, a network of sensors, cameras, wireless devices, data centres form the key infrastructure, which allows civic authorities to provide essential services in a faster and more efficient manner.

Smart cities are also far more environmentally friendly as they use sustainable materials for building facilities and reduce energy consumption.

In the case of GIFT, coming up in Gandhinagar, examples of smart technology include a central command centre to monitor the citywide IT network and respond quickly during emergencies, energy-efficient district cooling (which uses chilled water to cool buildings) systems instead of air-conditioning and high-tech waste collection systems.

In another innovation, cars willremain outside the the special economic zone and everyone will have to use moving walkways to get to the city centre.

The city is being planned in such a way that future planners don't have to dig for 100 years, the newspaper said.

The aim of GIFT is to develop into a world-class financial centre to rival the likes of London, New York, Hong Kong and Dubai.

While Gujarat's plans might seem highly ambitious (and niche), the fact is that smart cities may eventually become the only way for civic administrators to cope with rapid urbanisation.By 2050, more than 70 percent of the world's population will live in cities. By 2015, more than 215 million people in India will migrate to cities, according to an Indian Express report.

Most cities can barely cope with the crush of steadily increasing population, and many are stretched to breaking point trying to meet the energy, water and transport and communication demands of its residents.

You don't have to look very far to see evidence of that. Just look at Mumbai: power cuts, water cuts, overburdened transport systems and overcrowding are issues that are already trying the patience of residents everyday.

Even worse, the resource consumption of these kinds of cities is staggering.According to the Indian Express report, cities occupy only 2 percent of the earth's landmass, but account for over 75 percent of our resource consumption.

Currently, there are more than 125 smart city projects underway around the world. India, too, is evincing interest in such urban design: it has already announced that it will build seven new smart cities in the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor. Some IT parks are also smart-technology-enabled.

Here are some other smart cities coming up in India and overseas:

Lavasa: Three hours outside Mumbai, this controversial (for environmental reasons) project actually has some pretty cool tech attractions. According to The Wall Street Journal, among the digital experiences Lavasa homes will offer are touch panel automation, occupancy-based lighting, door sensors, motion sensors, beam detectors and on-call transport services.

Skolkovo, Russia: Apparently, this is Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's pet project to build the country's own Silicon Valley. The city's smarts will come from interconnected grids for transportation, education and healthcare.

Masdar, Abu Dhabi (UAE): Dubbed the green city in the desert, it will use traditional Islamic architecture design to ensure cooling and shading. The city's eco-friendly headquarters, reportedly, will consume 70 percent less water than typical mixed-use buildings. The aim is to create a zero-carbon, zero-waste, energy-positive smart city.

Songdo, South Korea: The $35 billion project uses an extensive network that connects all the components of the city as well as the buildings - residences, offices, schools, etc. In this highly networked community, residents will be able to control the functions of their homes remotely, and everyone will be able to interact through video from anywhere.

Updated Date: Dec 20, 2014 07:53:20 IST