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Getting smart about smart cities

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision for smart cities has finally begun to take shape with the ministry of urban development identifying new and existing locations that will soon be remodeled ‘smart’. Smart cities can be defined as urban areas which have intelligent physical, social and economic infrastructure in place. The infrastructure of such a city should be equipped with systems aimed at better management of energy resources, water, transport and traffic, safety and security.

With R7,060 crore allocated in the budget, the smart cities initiative has garnered the maximum attention from the IT sector as this project will rely heavily on ICT. In fact, IDC expects a minimum of R2,000 crore flowing into the technology sector on the back of this initiative.

Technology is an enabler for all smart cities. From centralised control system which provides real-time inputs on availability of water, electricity, healthcare and education to effective management of traffic, weather prediction, pollution control and disaster management. What this means is a large volumes of data are sifted through to make intelligent, informed, accurate and swifter decisions. And this is where GPUs lend a hand.

Graphics processing units (GPUs) are built from ground up to handle tasks in parallel and are optimised for compute-intensive tasks. From oil exploration to cancer research. From Bollywood studios to weather modelling. From diamond cutting to helping farmers: GPUs offer superior computing capabilities everywhere. They even help you identify the song you just liked on the radio. The popular Shazam application uses a GPU to rapidly search and recognise songs from its 27-million track database. Next time you use Shazam, think about the fact that the lightning-quick computing task took place in a far-off data centre in the cloud—and was brought to you in a matter of seconds!

Now apply the same power of the GPU in a smart city environment. Take the example of disaster recovery and emergency response. When cyclone Hudhud hit Indian coasts—authorities had to track the weather conditions to get the correct assessment of the impact on-ground. For this they rely on satellite images. However, processing these images could take hours, if not days. GPUs can not only condense the time taken but also help in providing a better synopsis of the exact situation. Speed and accuracy can save millions of lives.

Healthcare: Our government has a daunting task not only to provide basic healthcare to our citizens but also to guard ourselves against global pandemics like Ebola. How can technology help here? In 2009, when the deadly H1N1 influenza outbreak took place, it was infectious and deadly primary due to frequent virus mutations that rendered existing anti-influenza drugs ineffective. Then, researchers in the UK and Thailand ran a large number of advanced simulations using a small computing cluster equipped with GPUs. This allowed them to observe how a multitude of H1N1 mutations could cause changes in the chemical and biological structure and behaviour of a key enzyme of the virus. Armed with this information, they were able to determine, for the first time, what made the H1N1 virus resistant to existing antiviral drugs.

Urban planning: As India’s urban areas become ever more densely populated, reducing energy use and mitigating air pollution will be critical. As part of the smart initiative, planners have to make cities more sustainable through green infrastructure projects, such as parks, alteration of building rooftops and the use of novel paving materials for streets and parking lots.
However, understanding the complex interactions among these projects, the environment and urban microclimates on citywide scales is a complicated challenge.

Globally, scientists are developing large-scale simulations of urban environments using extremely fast and inexpensive modeling tools that run on GPUs. This includes an interactive and immersive virtual environment that examines the dynamic physical processes associated with energy use and pollutant dispersion in settings ranging from neighbourhoods to cities to metropolitan areas. With a better understanding of these relationships, urban planners can design future projects and policies that optimise green infrastructures and energy conservation while minimising air pollution in urban landscapes.

In India too, this ability of GPUs has caught the attention of scientists and engineers with premier research and educational institutes such as department of space, IITs and top Universities already using them. The next logical step is to take the message to the top decision makers in the government, as many of India’s governance projects are very amenable to the use of GPUs.

Vishal Dhupar
The writer is managing director, South Asia, Nvidia

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