Smart Poles for Illumination, Charging Electric Vehicles and Assessing Urban Air Quality

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Rojita Sharma and her friend Shristi Kuikel are completing their MSc. in Energy for Sustainable Social Development and Urban Planning respectively at the Pulchowk Campus. They participated in the Smart Urban Technology Challenge to present their idea for the Smart Pole. A simple way to help coordinate traffic in the Valley along with several other features. The pole would incorporate several different components that would help monitor traffic, temperature, and air quality. It would also help coordinate traffic and collect information that would be accessible to individuals on their daily commute. Rojita is interested in social entrepreneurship and is very much in the early stages of the process. Read more to find out what she has to say about the smart pole and her plans for becoming an urban planner and social entrepreneur. 

smart-poles

1. Could you give us a general introduction to yourself and your idea? 
My friend Shristi and I are both interested in urban planning and sustainable planning, which is what we are pursuing our master’s in as well, so obviously we wanted to participate in the Smart Urban Technology Challenge as soon as we heard about it. We wanted to focus on the traffic problem in Kathmandu because everyone has to deal with it on a regular basis. We started doing some research and the idea of the smart pole seemed the most fascinating. We already have a lot of poles with street lights and perhaps a solar panel and some kind of advertisement on them, we wanted to think of ways to expand its functionality and adding other features to them. Our design included an electric vehicle charging station, traffic lights at relevant junctions, closed-circuit cameras, and a display screen. The smart poles would also be in sync with one another and could coordinate traffic accordingly. We also wanted to include other components like an air quality monitoring unit, which would be displayed on the screen as well. Another component would be to create an app that would allow users to access all the traffic and air quality data collected by these poles.

2. Why did you want to work on this problem? 
It seemed to be a simple idea that brought together concepts of sustainable technology and development. We wanted to focus on a good idea that would help reduce the problem of traffic congestion. It’s an issue all of us endure each day, and as urban planning and sustainable social development students we wanted to find a solution that incorporated several different components such as traffic, air quality, promotion of electric transport and information sharing. Once we started doing some research we found the smart poles to be really fascinating. 

3. Could you tell us more about the features of these poles? 
Yes, so the main feature of the poles we see now is the streetlight. Some of them also have solar panels to power them as well as a small hoarding board. I wanted to focus more on the electricity supply and transport management. Based on our plan, the pole would have a unit for charging electric vehicles, possibly powered by solar power. The poles would also be connected to streetlights, traffic lights and CC Cameras to monitor traffic and increase their compliance with the rules. It is impractical to have traffic police coordinating vehicles at junctions as they do now. The poles would also have sensors that give you real-time information on the current temperature, air pollution levels and the overall amount of energy consumed for charging on a given day. A major component of this project is the connection and communication between the poles and managing the information with the use of the software. This information could help create a database accessible to all people, possibly in the form of an app. I also wanted to incorporate a feature that allowed the smart poles to help with parking as well. They could display information on the availability of parking spaces in a certain area and help with collecting the payment for it too.

4. What phase is this idea in? 
We are still in the early stages of the idea. We have been doing a lot of research as urban planners but we need people from several other fields like IT specialists and electrical engineers. During the course of the competition that was one of the things that were very time consuming for us. However, in the coming years, my research proposal and Master’s thesis are both going to be focused on these smart poles.

5. What areas of Nepal did you want to work in? 
For the project, I was interested in working in Koteshwor and Baneshwor. At that point, that’s all I had thought of and it seemed like smart poles wouldn’t be too helpful there. But there needs to be a trial in a specific area like the Sanepa area to determine the effect. I need to collaborate with people.

6. Have you seen this idea implemented anywhere else? 
No, but we did a lot of research. We’ve been hearing a lot about smart cities and we were studying the same stuff in our classes too. We also use our phones a lot and hear about things like BTS systems. And recently there was a proposal for the Bus Transit System in Nepal. It’s like the Sajha Bus App that helps you determine where a particular bus or public transport vehicle is at any given time.

7. What are your future plans? 
I really want to pursue this idea which is why I’m planning on writing my Master’s thesis on this. I’m thinking of establishing an NGO that might help me refine the idea or start my own private company that might work on this idea but also other ones, I’m really interested in working waste management issues as well. But before doing so I’m going to do more research on the idea over the course of this degree and then decide where to go from there. 

8. Are you interested in becoming a social entrepreneur? 
Yes! That is certainly what I’m interested in doing. I’m not an entrepreneur now but I’m very seriously considering it. I don’t want to have to work for someone else, I’d love an opportunity to generate and work on my own ideas. Just doing research on the smart poles was a lot of fun, I know I would appreciate the independence. But obviously, it isn’t that simple, there are pros and cons. Handling an entire business on your own is incredibly difficult.

For more information about Smart Poles, please contact Rojita Sharma at sharmarojita93@gmail.com.

Interviewed and article by Jyotika Shah.