Dubai aims to be a first-of-its-kind smart city

Dubai aims to be a first-of-its-kind smart cityImage Credit: Archives,

Not long ago, modern innovations and conveniences such as e-wallets, 3D-printed homes and smart services would have seemed like science fiction. Today, many of these work together, helping to keep the wheels of people's lives turning. But how much smarter will things get?

Residents and visitors in Dubai are offered free Wi-Fi in public places, with extra bandwidth for government websites. A committee has been set up to lay out the strategy for Dubai's open data policy, propose legislation and create an action plan for implementing it.

In the future, a smart city is one where a smart phone can tell its owner suffering from asthma that there's too much pollen in the park and provide alternatives. Already there are innovations that make it possible for vehicle sensors to detect accidents kilometres away and find less-congested routes. These advances fit into Dubai's vision of a smart city that is responsive to the needs of residents and visitors.

Dr Ali Sebaa Al Marri, Executive President of the Mohammad Bin Rashid School of Government, which regularly hosts forums on the topic, tells that Dubai's smart city initiative revolves around these main pillars: smart life, smart transport, smart community, smart economy and governance and smart environment.

''Dubai has plans for 100 initiatives in transport, communications, infrastructure, electricity and urban planning as it takes steps towards turning into a smart city,'' says Dr Al Marri.

''In the next two years, more than 1,000 government services will go smart, bringing the plans closer to the full implementation of the programme.''

Building a smart city is more than just collecting apps. ''Smart city means different things to different people and different cities,'' said Ahmad Bin Byat, Chairman of the Smart Dubai Executive Committee, at February's Government Summit in Dubai. ''Our smart city is futuristic and economically and socially sustainable. It provides a platform for sustainability for the people. It has a human element to it more than gadgets and systems.

''You will not have a smart city if you have many smart applications. You need to connect them together and drive them towards what people feel about the city.''

Earlier this year, technology major Cisco released a report, Dubai and the Internet of Everything: Opportunity at the Crossroads, which identified municipality, ground transport automation, police, national security and defence, utilities smart grid, travel and tourism, and retail as the seven verticals that will gain from and contribute most to the emirate's smart city transformation.

City-specific initiatives

Shukri Eid, Director of Middle East, Africa, Russia, and CIS at Cisco Consulting Services, tells there are many cases around the world of smart applications making a difference to a city. ''Whether Nice or Barcelona, each city works with an interesting set of pilots depending on its needs,'' he says, citing the example of Barcelona's waste management sensors.

''We have sensors in trash bins on the street and by sensing whether it is full or not we automatically control the route the garbage truck needs to take through the city. This saves time and energy and fuel consumption goes down. The carbon footprint is lower and there are fewer complaints from residents.''

Eid offers other examples, including smart street lighting that can also serve as a Wi-Fi hot spot and a sensor for light, humidity, temperature and fog. ''Maybe part of it will be attached to a camera to sense or understand if there is an accident or an emergency.''

In the UAE, both private and public sector companies are working on the idea. ''We're working on predictive analytics and how retail can work on it,'' says Nitin Khanapurkar, Partner, Management Consulting at professional services firm KPMG. ''Tomorrow's retail is going to have multiple faces. You'll target people through social media and loyalty cards and it's going to the change the customer experience.''

Experts say there is enough proof that smart city works. ''When you look at the internet of things, the basic steps have been taken,'' says Khanapurkar. ''But there is more. If I'm driving a car, it should be interacting with the road not GPS. If there is an accident after two kilometres, are the roads smart enough to direct me to another route?''

Solid plan

Khanapurkar points out the need for a smart blueprint. ''As far as the ingredients for smart city go, the UAE is ready,'' he says. ''However, we need a smart blueprint that ensures main sectors such as health care, education and transportation can all work together.''

A blueprint is more than the sum of all apps. ''It touches on numerous layers,'' Rabih Dabboussi, General Manager of Cisco UAE, tells Property Weekly. ''It initially starts with the vision, objective and strategy you'll need to transform a nation or a city and talks about regulatory changes, new laws and processes that need to take place.

''It also has to touch on infrastructure, physical or virtual. There are multiple chapters to the blueprint, linked to the overall strategy on how you actually go about implementing it.

''That is why you need to build a generic architecture or a blueprint. When you try to deploy and execute it, you will need to build an environment that is catering to all the needs of the city.

''Dubai is looking at all these layers at a very detailed level.''

The next couple of years will see the emirate defining its concepts as it implements them. ''I believe you will see more integration between ministries and local government departments,'' says Dabboussi. ''And you'll see more integration between different government departments within an emirate.''

From an infrastructure point of view, a smart blueprint would require services that are delivered via various user devices.

''At the beginning of this year we started putting a blueprint together—we have the mobile and fibre infrastructure,'' Marwan Bin Dalmook, Senior Vice-President of Managed Services and Smart City/Smart Government Initiative Lead at du, tells Property Weekly. ''We started looking at the internet of things, how we can connect them as well as sensors to enrich the infrastructure and to enable more facilities and services.

''We looked at how we can connect governmental entities so they can utilise this infrastructure. We need to put all this data in one basket so everyone can share from it.''

Big data, open data

Integration of data in one big repository will be necessary for the city to function intelligently, says Dalmook.

''Every entity has its own data and information, [but] they don't talk to each other — if they want to, they will have to go through permissions and many obstacles. If they are sharing the data in one single repository, then it will be simpler.''

All this is likely to lead to your own control panel, with access customised for the user.

''After that you start having a dashboard — one for citizens, and another for executives, where the government will be able to access data and start fixing specific issues,'' he says. ''You can have multiple feeds from different entities.

''With open data, the public can start creating their own applications. Citizens can become entrepreneurs [who can create] new solutions that can help the city.''

Leading the way

So which is the smartest city in the world? Dabboussi says it may be Dubai. ''Everyone was asking that we take them to the smartest city in the world so they can learn everything and come back and implement. That does not exist unfortunately; when it does it will be Dubai.

''What we're doing here is unique; no one else has done it before. Other cities have addressed specific needs. For Nice, it was traffic congestion in summer, when all of Europe descends on it. They needed to solve a problem by digitising traffic management. There are numerous examples around the world that are really advanced and smart but there is no single entity out there that has digitized [services entirely].''

The blueprint must start with a vision, says Dabboussi. ''The vision is not just to do better road, transport and traffic management, municipality or police services, or utility management. It is all of that and so much more. And that is why we are very excited because no one else has done it anywhere else.''

Intelligent solutions

Depending on specific pain points, world cities identify the areas they need to get smarter in. Here are a few examples.

Potholes in Boston: An application called Citizen Connect is designed to enable residents to report any problems — potholes, graffiti or damaged signs — and request for service. Since 2009, about 70,000 requests have been logged using the app.

One of the apps, Street Bump, runs in the background as you drive around the city. It collects data on where the bumps are and sends it to a server, which then decides whether you hit something that needs repair.

City operations in Rio de Janeiro: Home to 6.32 million people, Rio's infrastructure will be pushed to the limit when it hosts events such as the 2016 Olympics. An operation centre designed by IBM integrates data from 30 agencies, including roads, subways and weather satellites. Set up in 2010, it will sound an alarm if a mudslide threatens hillside communities and reroute traffic if an accident blocks a road.

Disaster management in Haiti: Following the earthquake in 2010, the Sahana Free and Open Source Disaster Management System was used as a registry of about 700 organisations. It
tracked almost 10,000 requests for assistance, provided an accurate and complete list of the 162 operating hospitals and medical facilities along with bed availability and status, and aggregated 41 layers of data from different sources on to one situation map, so organisations could plan where to send an ambulance or find out which site needs drinking water. The system is in use in disaster management preparedness and relief work across the world.

Source: Shalini Seth, Special to Property Weekly


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