Smart convergence spawns in India’s Palava City

Shaishav Dharia, the development director, strategy, at Lodha Group, who is overseeing Palava City, talks about the “smart” elements of the project.

How did you go about putting the technology infrastructure in place?

Before we even engaged IBM or Cisco, we started this work ourselves two-and-a-half years ago. For about six to nine months the team spent time understanding what a smart city is and what the technology parts are that help a city become better. Only after we had a reasonable understanding did we actually start the design work with one of these consultants. One of the advantages we have is that we are a greenfield [new-build] city. I am not constrained by infrastructure that was laid with a different thought. It comes down to which smart technologies either make a citizen’s life better or reduce operating costs – those are the ones we go for.

Was it challenging?

Yes, it was challenging. With the ICT part, the challenge for us was just understanding futuristically – because I didn’t have consumers that time living there to tell me what was their need – what are the most relevant needs and those that make practical sense. The best decision we made in 2011 was we wanted to [instal] fibre [optic across] the entire city. We just knew that in the future, the fact that everything is connected, we would have the potential to do more. Today that is paying off because all my sensors, all my security cameras, every lift alarm, every fire alarm provides data on that fibre back into my command centre. That investment in fibre made a huge difference, without which we’d be redoing everything. What we actually realised as we were doing this is that Palava is actually helping to grow many small companies because they are open to come here, pilot it and then scale up.

All the technology must be expensive, so can such cities be affordable?

It’s expensive if you take a snapshot view of today. But if I look at my operating costs of the city, all of these technologies actually lower my long-term operating costs. Upfront, yes, you feel it. With the example of security, we already have about 300 cameras. We’ve just started work on analytics, whether it’s motion triggered or cameras following certain cars, so the camera is not just dumb recording large amounts of information. We don’t have a guard in every building lobby. We don’t need it. It more than compensates the cost of cameras and running a command centre.

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