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Using a mix of IoT, ICT, electronics and telecom, this startup is creating an ecosystem of solutions for smart urban living

Sindhu MV
1st Mar 2018
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Want to report an issue with a public toilet? Or maybe you want to appreciate how efficiently the parking lot at the metro station is being managed?

This Mumbai-headquartered startup is enabling citizens in 105 cities across states like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, and Himachal Pradesh to do just that, in real time.

Using an IoT-based phygital platform, citizens can provide direct feedback on services like public toilets, metro parking lots, parks, and public hospitals, and institutions can monitor their third-party service providers. Since its launch in December 2016, Gaia’s Smart Feedback platform has recorded more than 24 million user-generated feedback data points. This data is already helping municipal governments manage their distributed last mile service delivery more efficiently. The IoT-based smart feedback system has been deployed at metro stations, railway stations, and office facilities, and is being extended across business segments like airports, and retail spaces.

This is just one instance which illustrates how Gaia, a data automation and analytics startup, is leveraging civic tech and urban tech solutions to address challenges in business and urban ecosystems.

Gaia prides itself on being the largest IoT-enabled feedback company in India, bringing together multiple IoT and digital data streams onto a single platform. User generated IoT and digital feedback is used for participative governance monitoring and consumer experience analytics. Sensor generated feedback is used for process and infrastructure monitoring in distributed environments. These ‘smart’ solutions use a common hardware and software stack. Gaia’s solutions provide real time insights, data-driven alerts, and historical patterns, which enable clients to monitor, manage, and improve their operations, experience, supply chain, performance, and service delivery.

When a passionate team and best of technology come together

Dr Sumit D Chowdhury, Gaia’s Founder and CEO says, “Our end-to-end solutions collect user generated and sensor generated data streams, giving real-time visibility into the typically opaque last mile infrastructure. Our robust and scalable cloud platform uses deep analytics, Artificial Intelligence(AI), big data, fraud analytics, and visualisation to provide actionable insights for rapid response and systemic changes.”

A global authority on telecom, electronics and information systems and solutions for Smart Cities, Sumit explains how Gaia combines IT, electronics and telecommunications to drive digital transformation, and create a distinctive USP and competitive edge for Gaia. “We create an IoT virtual network allowing devices with different communication and load characteristics to connect and communicate to backend infrastructure seamlessly. We think like a telco, in terms of large scale mission critical infrastructure. We apply concepts learnt in the telecom IT domain and create unique electronic products,” he says.

The startup began its journey as Gaia Smart Cities in early 2015. Bipin Pradeep Kumar, Co-founder and Director of Product Development, says, “We were lucky to get a passionate founding senior leadership team with Aastha Sayal, Prasun Agrawal, Mayuri Naik, Neetika Chhabra, Amrita Chowdhury, and Dr. Prashun Dutta.”

Prior to co-founding Gaia, Bipin, who has two patents to his credit, had worked in senior roles in internet startups and big companies solving complex systems problems. Amrita, who heads Business and Marketing at GAIA, was heading several multinational companies in India and holds seven patents in semi-conductor processing. Both Prashun and Sumit have been CIOs of large infrastructure companies.

Team GAIA

Amrita says, “We were all fascinated with IoT and the concept of creating an ecosystem of solutions for solving wide-area urban and industrial problems. Having a very senior team allowed us to work on impactful projects and helped us scale quickly. We have worked on national, state and city-level projects. We have also worked with multiple large companies to find innovative solutions to their problems.”

Gaia offers GSM/GRPS (wireless) based or LoRa WAN-based IoT solutions. [A Low-Power Wide-Area Network (LPWAN) or Long range (LoRa) or Low-Power Network (LPN) is a type of wireless telecommunication wide area network designed to allow long range communications at a low bit rate among connected objects, such as sensors operated on a battery.]

Gaia’s urban tech solutions provide asset and utility monitoring and end-to-end smart mission software platforms. The last mile data communication from sensors to the cloud can blend LPWAN and GSM modes to create a virtual network of networks. Gaia Grid allows different things to communicate and get connected to the internet of infrastructure and the internet of people.

Sumit explains, “With our Smart City Solutions, we enable businesses and governments to design and implement solutions to create a more responsive, event-driven city with automation across platforms. We are also working on solutions for sustainability, and a small team focuses on Design – making cities look better. Our Smart Mission Management software allows large programme management tools to be effectively deployed for real-time management of diverse and distributed projects across the country.”

Deconstructing Gaia’s smart solutions

Gaia has built its own industrial IoT hardware platform using high-performance edge-computing chipsets and secure heterogeneous wireless communication technologies. Its backend platform is flexible, modular, and scalable to manage multiple and different types of IoT gateways and devices, and allocate the data into appropriate front-end applications. It is designed to manage the entire solution and ongoing operations of service seamlessly. Coupled with a powerful analytics engine, the solution stack allows them to rapidly implement and scale solutions.

Gaia’s hardware stack was initially designed for sensors and man-in-the-middle IoT solutions. “There was limited ability for complex event and data processing on the edge. By developing the next version of the platform using Qualcomm chipsets allows us to bring in AI and Machine Learning (ML) capabilities, and to add voice and video-based inputs into the remote device,” says Sumit. He elaborates,

The Qualcomm chipsets enable use of audio engagement, audio processing, Embedded Voice Interface and Natural Language Understanding (NLU) which will allow a variety of new use-cases to be addressed without having to attach a complex computer to the network.”

The Gaia team is working on developing cognitive and self-learning applications to solve business problems using leading VUI, NLU & ML technology frameworks.

“We are going to use the CSR Family, Snapdragon Family of solutions and create an integrated development environment for a self-learning NanoSCADA platform. This will allow our edge device to be versatile and will have the potential to disrupt the monolithic industrial automation systems,” says Dr. Sumit.

Gaia is among the six startups shortlisted for the Cycle II of Qualcomm Design in India - Challenge 2017 (QDI-C 2017). The startup has been receiving technical and mentoring support from Qualcomm as part of the cohort.

Surfing through challenges and riding on growth opportunities

The Gaia founding team believes that with advances in developing sensors and computing technology, making devices and processes smart is becoming easier. However, they add that analytics and actionable insights play a key role in providing value to the client. “We believe that a lot of context is required to make sense of the data and recommend actions, and a lot more research is required to actually take decisive action based on that analysis.”

For the team at Gaia, their biggest challenge at present is to develop products fast enough to address current and emerging market opportunities and achieve scale. The CEO says, “Gaia is at a critical cusp in its journey where it has created IP through product and solution development and establishing processes. Now we are looking at addressing the three factors vital for our growth and we hope to achieve that in the next six months. The first is streamlining our product portfolio, further defining the processes, and achieving scale at reasonable cost and timeframe. The second is to strengthen the logistics, supply chain and partner network. The third is getting investments through equity to run the business.”

The team is positive that India’s renewed focus on creating over 100 smart cities will power the next wave of opportunities, where most of it can be tapped by the private sector, including startups, through the Make in India and Digital India programmes. To improve its products and solutions in the urban tech space through real world engagement, the team has also worked on designing the ICT master architecture and defining smart technology strategies for cities and private industrial townships. Having achieved a pan-India client base in just three years, the team now plans to work on getting appropriate certifications for their devices, strengthen the robustness of their platforms, and go global in 2018.

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