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After smart phones and smart cars, now come smart cities - Economic Times

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An operating system is the most vital piece of software in a computer. It makes the hardware components work together and, in large systems, ensures that programs running at the same time do not interfere with each other. Operating systems are so useful that they are now being used in devices like mobile phones, tablets, televisions, washing machines and refrigerators. They are now set to migrate to a different kind of device: the city. 

Operating systems will soon be used to manage a city in Portugal, near the tourist town of Paredes. Here, a five-year-old Swiss startup, Living PlanIT, is leading the construction of a new city spread over 17 square kilometres. At the heart of this city is the Urban Operating System (UOS) the company has co-developed. 

The UOS optimises all the services in a city, just the way a computer optimises all its resources. It constantly receives data inputs from around the city, and makes sure traffic lights, air-conditioners and other appliances are all working optimally. During emergencies like a fire, for example, it guides people to exit routes, and controls traffic signals so that the fire service can reach the area quickly. Acity like this could end up being a net energy generator with extremely low carbon dioxide emissions. "It is difficult to estimate the emissions of a city," says Living PlanIT chief technology officer Shaie Selzer. "But we may find it close to zero if we did." 

The city, called PlanIT Valley, is the first of what the company calls its design wins. If it proves the concept and the economics in a few design wins, Living PlanIT - pronounced as Living Planet - could rewrite the $4.6 trillion global construction industry. Due to its fragmented nature, the construction industry has innovated little over the recent decades, and has lagged behind other industries in productivity gains. It is also enormously wasteful. Studies in the US show that 75% of construction adds no value. The industry wastes 60% of the materials and 30% of the cost of construction. According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, buildings use 40% of the world's energy. This can be reduced substantially by making them smart. 

PlanIT Valley is one of the many smart cities coming up in the world. Other examples include Songdo in South Korea, Masdar in Abu Dhabi, Dongtan in China and parts of Iskandar in Malaysia. These cities use different concepts, but all aim at the same result: an eco-friendly city that optimises all its resources and services. For example, when complete in 2015, Songdo is supposed to develop into a major carbon-neutral business hub, spread over 6 sq km and with 65,000 inhabitants. PlanIT Valley is being developed as an R&D hub, with companies like Microsoft, Philips, GE, Deutsche Telekom and several others already planning to set up research centres there. 


Building greenfield cities is a new megatrend in the construction industry, springing from the need to accommodate billions of people moving into cities. Three years ago, the world passed through a milestone when the number of people living in cities equalled the number of people living in villages. The United Nations World Urbanisation Report estimated that 70% of the world population would live in cities by 2050. This means thousands of new cities have to be built quickly. The founders of PlanIT estimate this number to be 9,400 by 2050, which translates into one of the biggest business opportunities of this century. 

India would need them too as its urban population would increase by 600 million during this period. Management Guru CK Prahlad had said two years ago that India would need to build 500 new cities if the existing ones were not to turn into super-slums. A recent McKinsey report says that India has to add 800 million sq metres of floor space and 400 km of metro-rail every year till 2030. PlanIT is using its design wins to prove its concepts. "Once new cities prove the concept," says Selzer, "we would go to existing cities that form a bigger market." .

Author: sustainabilityoutlook