Today, sustainability field experts including city planners, architects, and mayors are aware of the increasing issues regarding growth in urban population, consumption of resources, and carbon footprint. How do these experts plan to address this? Smart cities and Open innovation.

This winter break, UGBA 193i students embarked on an international adventure to India, led by Professor Solomon Darwin, to learn about smart cities and how they could use this knowledge to transform urban cities into a more sustainable landscape. What exactly is a “smart city”? A smart city uses information technology to solve urban problems, monitors and manages traffic, water levels, energy usage, security cameras, and waste and communication systems in real time with sensors and cost-effective digital tools that are essentially free. “[Smart cities] use tech to transform core systems to optimize best use of finite resources,” explains Rahul Sharma of IBM India.

Before the journey to India commenced, Dean Lyons of Haas School of Business felt “blown away by this experience” and encouraged the class to “go for it”! Since December 28, UGBA 193i students have been diligently immersing themselves in the course’s mission of studying and evaluating the Open Innovation process in India, shadowing field experts in sustainability and city planning, evaluating cost-benefits of the investment; and recommending better processes for soliciting external innovations to benefit the building of future smart cities that are in the planning stages in India.

As the students embarked on their studies, they learned that certain truths may hold more depth than they realized. Dr. Bimal Patel, President of CEPT University, explained that smart cities in India are defined differently than smart cities in the United States. In the words of student Ryan Khalessi, “In the Bay Area, cities seek to use information technology to improve municipal operations and, ultimately, the quality of life of its residents. In India, cities are using information technology to make data-driven decision to meet the challenges of rapid urbanization and a quickly growing economy.” Although a “smart city” may not be universal, our students have gained a greater understanding of how to implement smart cities in the US by taking into account that various locations may have different needs.

Open innovation must be utilized in all aspects when building smart cities in order to create a collaborative and ever-growing environment. Another vital lesson students have learned so far in their journey is cultural communication. Student Erica Lee elaborates : “today’s urban planners need to stop trying to rebuild India into looking like America. Rather…we should learn to embrace differences and achieve harmony through celebration of each others’ uniqueness.”

The possibility of enriching our UGBA 193i students about smart cities and leveraging open innovation is all thank to the generous support of Tyco. The Haas program will end on January 8. Upon their return to the US, students will transfer what they have learned from this experience to innovate local cities into smart cities.

By Cindy Ma