India’s Smart City Initiative that was announced some five year ago was aimed at improving the overall quality of life of citizens by harnessing technology. As seen in many countries across the globe, smart cities in India are also playing a key role in the country’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Despite delays in the country’s smart city projects due to paucity of funds, smart cities like Agra, Chandigarh, Vadodara, Agra and Kakinada have been able to effectively tap technologies like sensors, tele-healthcare, data and analytics, and contribute significantly to India’s fight against COVID-19,” Sandeep Kolakotla, Technology Analyst at GlobalData told CXOToday.
Agra Smart City, for instance, launched a tele-video consultation service, which allows citizens to book an appointment with healthcare professionals, and even download online prescriptions from a dedicated app. Agra Smart City also tied up with the city administration and the Agra Police to set up a control room for monitoring social distancing compliance at various locations via video surveillance. It has also started using AI-based analytics on the surveillance data to generate alerts, which are configured via an app on the field staff mobile phones.
Agra has also been working with Gaia Smart Cities, an IoT startup, to leverage its technology platform, including a COVID-19 self-assessment app, built on Microsoft’s Azure to track COVID-19 cases.
“The platform, enables citizens to provide self-assessment of their health risk, and helps city administrators track responses by pin code and take preventive action. The collated data also provides real-time reports, helping authorities to monitor trends across the city,” informed Amrita Chowdhury, director, Gaia.
Bengaluru and Kakinada Smart Cities on the other hand have launched data dashboards which will act as a single source for all pandemic-related action and measures, as well as data collection. For instance, the Kakinada Smart City Team has an inbuilt Hot-Spot mechanism, which is creating awareness and driving analytics for COVID 19. The Mangalore Smart City has set up a dedicated call centre to advise citizens who are self-quarantined, along with addressing other grievances.
Another smart city, Varanasi has deployed drones to spray sanitizer around COVID-19-sensitive parts of the city. High-quality CCTV cameras which were initially fitted across Varanasi were used for safety, and often to prevent crimes. These are now used to monitor citizen’s movements, and ensure social distancing guidelines are being followed. Besides this, surveillance systems through drones are also used to keep an eye on traffic, and vehicular movement in cities such as Varanasi, Panjim, Kochi and Bangalore.
Read more: Drones Stepping Up Fight Against COVID-19
Elsewhere smart cities are well equipped with video walls, and advanced video feeds of the region which has come together to create war rooms. In Pimpri Chinchwad, close to Pune, one of the highly affected areas in Maharashtra, the war room uses a strong network of surveillance cameras along with location-based services, and analytical tools. These war rooms are also central zones where information and updates are disseminated to the public. Similarly, in Bengaluru, the war rooms are used to monitor quarantine facilities and draw up containment plans.
In cities like Mangalore, Nagpur, Kanpur and Agra, telemedicine services through centralized portals have become highly beneficial to denizens. Dedicated medical personnel are available around the clock at command and control centers, as well as through specially created portals to attend to patients virtually. This has been extremely helpful at this time, to help citizens access medical help, without having to step out. It has also eased the burden on healthcare systems and freed up hospital beds.
Technologies like GIS have also been used to map each positive COVID-19 case. Further, GPS systems are deployed to track health care workers in real-time and draw up containment plans.
Jason Corburn, an urban health expert at UC Berkeley, University of California, believes that the Covid-19 crisis is an opportunity to rethink how cities are designed—and make them better equipped to stop disease from spreading. From that perspective a lot more cities in India should be built to become ‘smart enough’ to become next generation cities in India. And when cities are becoming smarter, the traditional methods of governing would not suffice. Rather, the government should take new e-governance initiatives where digital transformation is vital to ensure smooth running of governance. However, that’s unlikely in the near future though work is in progress in pockets.
Nonetheless, Kolakotla sees a silver lining ahead. “While it is still early to measure the level of success that India’s smart cities have achieved in handling the current COVID-19 crisis, there is no doubt in concluding that they have certainly led the country’s fight back through innovative use of technologies, and setting the stage for other cities to follow suit and get smarter,” he summed up.