Art Culture Society / Children / Innovation / Lectures & Meetings / Uncategorized

Towards Smart Cities: Serving the unserved

Lecture by Prof Anil K Gupta to the students of University of Berkeley on Dec 31, 2014

When we want to map the minds of students then we need to pool their projects. Is there a platform like that? We need to build efficient heuristics. Huge grey literature based on UG projects. In technical education, sub-domain specialization has led to fragmentation of knowledge space. But breakthroughs would come when we are able to collaborate and bring ideas from different disciplines or domains.

In 2009 we designed done with the help of SRISTI. It has pooled 200,000 projects from 600+ colleges. The purpose was that all these grey literature should be available to future leaders of the discipline.

Knowledge from informal/unorganized sector

Smart cities need to incorporate the needs of the farmers who come to the city to sell their goods. Pooling of inventory, resources, cannot take place unless they are taken into account. We are drawing upon large no of services and products which are not produced in the city. Hence, the needs of the farmers need to be addressed.

In parks, seldom have we thought about elderly people who come for morning walk old would need benches at intervals. Some cities have such parks but majority do not have. We have not connected technological solution to institutional needs, environmental quality, and social needs. May be we also need water facilities but also SOS /emergency nos.

Students come to the city to study. The example of the Iron triangle was quoted. This region had a lot of crime. There was Dr George Washington Cravar, about 150 years ago, designed a vehicle with education materials. He was a great peanut scientist with interest and contribution to different disciplines.

We need to learn from each other, we need to open doors. Trust is a major issue. For every one unmet need there are atleast five people who might have tried solutions on their on

Another story of Trinity County was quoted where saw mills closed down and created a lot of unemployment. A couple wanted to use the small logs left by big companies. They needed a small yarder. They wanted to collect the small logs to set up a furniture company. A Canadian company gave them yarder. Then investment was another problem. Bank did not give them as the amount was small. They put their savings and got help from friends and started. Later Stanford University wanted to gift an assemblable chair to their alumni. They have made manysmall innovations. A database where knowledge of workers has been documented is available at

First thing is that there should be a lot of databases in different languages, in the language that the workers understand. Multimedia Multilanguage databases are necessary. If people do not know what exists then they won’t be able to build upon them.

The bridge made up of tree roots pulled from trees on two sides at Meghalaya was shown. This has zero entropy. Smartness is the idea of zero entropy not apps or calculator.

In Zurich, lawnmower would slip uphill in the morning. The person made spiked wheels as we have in shoes. He shared it with Honey Bee Network because he knew that we would be happy to know about it. Sharing reduce transaction cost. Solution from one place can go to unexpected strange places in real time. Bridge technology would not work unless there is a group, institutions. technology is like words, institution is like grammar, culture is like thesaurus.


Mike Cooley, in Margaret Thatcher’s reign, worked in Lucas aerospace station. He said we can send missiles but we cannot takecare of our elderly people. They created Greater London enterprise board where people could come and work on general problems. There were trams but tram rails were not everywhere, they wanted a tram with pneumatic tyres so that the tram could go on the roads as well. They made these convertible trams. People who have specialized knowledge but cannot do anything dur to brain drift. Brains move to less efficient domains (because they need job)

Frederick Taylor, famous for his time and motion studies,  gave the equation connecting the two so that in  minimum time maximum things can move from one place to another. At times we need to do deskilling, breaking the task into fragments so that no one worker as the complete knowhow.

 John Dewey’s concept of hiring and firing was discussed. It was agreed upon that nowadays companies around the world go for contractual employment.

It is truism to say that we need specialists. One cannot risk one’s life, people would want specialist but when it comes to workers, they are not that wilful as that would incur higher costs.

A student said that but the society also needs general practioners and a specialist might not be helpful always.

Prof Gupta replied that it is true as specialization leads to fragmentation of knowledge which leads to segmentation. For example Vit b12 deficiency solution was given by general physician because everyone else was looking only at the organ/discipline that they had specialization in.

He said that workers who work with hands, specialize in their work by sharpening their tools.

Long tail of innovation

The concept of Long tail of innovation was discussed. Taking the example of a city in which there is a place with high amount fluoride content, he said, “Should we leave them because scale is too small? If you have many such communities which are excluded, then one might invite insurgency, violence.”


Open source standards of excellence

An example of Open source standards of excellence was given. The best Terracotta horses were kept under the tree in a Shodhyatra. The artisans said that they do so because they want their children to know what the current standards of excellence are. In another Shodhyatra , he found a small city which broadcasts local problems. Meghalaya had the cleanest village. But the problem is that nobody advertises collective excellence. A Jain society in Ahmedabad who segregate waste at source never made news. He informed that Berkeley was the first campus where at source segregation of waste was done.


Incentives and Motivations

A student named Felisa asked, “What is the motivation for me to help the underprivileged?

Paradox of autonomy vs agency needs to be understood for effective institutional design.

Autonomy is the ability to take decisions. Agency is the willingness or capacity to act upon it.

In our culture we have swantay sukhay which means for your own inner happiness.

Professor Gupta went for a night walk to see how homeless people live in shelters in the NCR region. Separate shelters for men and women are there but not for families. Shelters for poor patients near hospital are required as hospitals often discharge patients prematurely as there are lack of beds. Such cases of unmet were met as such shelters were made by some NGOs. There were no shelves. People who go for work in the day time would need  lockers, which could be made outside the gardens on the boundary walls.

Student asked that the Professor was insisting that smart cities are not necessarily looking after the needs of business or policy makers but the inhabitants?

Answering this he said that there is word in Sankrit, Samvedna. A similar word in English is empathy  i.e. feeling someone else’s pain as one’s own. Then we do things for our inner happiness, it’s no more a favour.

Professor, Solomon from Berkeley said, “Problem is that people need to stay with them. We are too busy to go to them.”

Professor Gupta said, “We need to develop new pedagogies for people to be able to perceive these, expose them to these.”

Common property places are heart of community life.

Another student said that in US, in the east coast people do not have fences but in the west coast a lot of individualism is there.

Smart cities will it make people live in silos all the more.

Social Immunization

Dorothy said that they are actually Immunized: when they see problems here they feel motivated to do something for them  but when they go back they see the familiar faces of sweepers, etc. they do not feel the same because the conditions there are better than in India.

Professor Gupta narrated an incidence when he asked an intern to find out as to what do poor people laugh about? The girl had written back, sharing one of her observations when she saw a group of underprivileged children laughing at the expressions of a dog.

He continued sharing his experience in Bangladesh. He saw that the poorest communities would make a barbeque of cow dung on a jute stick. They put the stick in the fire and adjust the amount of heat they wanted. To him that was frugality. He also shared how they would plant banana plant in four areca nut trees which would store water and release in the dry season.

Honey Bee Network and its genesis was narrated

How do we create such sensitivity that people acknowledge other’s contribution and also identify the unique solutions that common people have devised?

The mantra is to understand that there is no limit to find a better solution.


The concept of innovation was discussed.

The Material, method, use on one axis old and new in another was drawn. If any of these were new then we call it an innovation.

innovation matrix

A student asked that why the network is called Honey Bee Network?

The Professor replied that the idea is that we share knowledge with others, acknowledge other’s knowledge and if you develop any product then a share of those profits should go back to those people based on whose knowledge it was made.


SRISTI’s Children Workshop

The Children workshop wherein Ignite winners and children from underprivileged section went to some of the places to know about the problems faced by the communities. In Pirana, a dumping site near Ahmedabad, when one of the participants embraced one of the ragpickers, he cried because people considered him untouchable. Kids are sensible and sensitive; it is the duty of the elders to give them exposure. The kids also gave the idea of Clay mixing machine for potters and people who make idols was shared. One of the participants had said in the feedback that we should given them their photos which the participants took during their trip. Students need to engage with people.

A student shared that a professor in Berkeley  was working with energy. He got a solution but these couldn’t be run by the communities so wasn’t accepted.

Society need to know that children and communities are not sink but source of idea

When we devise solutions we should take care of the afore-mentioned innovation matrix.


The concept of frugality and frugal innovations was discussed. The attributes are affordable, accessible and available, later circular was added, assuming that there is waste.

Cradle to grave approach needs to be changed to cradle to cradle. Waste is dumped in landfill which are lowlying which are actually lungs of the earth actually choke the earth. Hence, every component should have fatigue factor mentioned. Lufthansa airlines example given where Lufthansa set up a furniture subsidiary as they found that the life of their seats were more than four times the life of the aircraft.

One should aim at reducing the rate of entropy.

For example for Plastic bags, there should be incentives to give it back, the concept of reverse supply chain is applied here.

Frugal solutions are not just about affordability. For example the cost of collection of Re One Shampoo sachets is huge. We are not paying, future generation is paying.

We should understand our responsibility to perfect strangers, one who is unknown and unknowable like the future generation or non-human sentient beings.

Autopoiesis model of innovation was discussed. People who are using services can remodel them by themselves.


One of the features of smart city should be the Transport system which adjust time according to the time of the commuters. Also, more time can be given at stoppages where no. of commuters is more

Smartness is the middle path, we learn incrementally.

Historically artificial intelligence promised that but that it did not happen because they are designed by humans.

Mehtar Hussain and Mushtaq Ahmed’s windmill example quoted. They applied the following heuristics: maximising output per unit of time is not always good and Smoother flow is not always better than irregular flow.


Levels of learning

There are four levels of learning: Artefactual, analogic, heuristic, gestalt

learning levels

Flexible design system is where you can redesign according to the needs.

Some example of heat exchangers and there usage was given. Heat from compressor is used to make a hot water chamber. In the process, it also consumes lesser energy. The example of lpg based refrigerator was shared.

heat exchangers


The key takeaways were

Open reciprocal innovation platforms

Build upon a resource in which poor people are rich

Empathetic innovations

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