A smart city revolution
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A smart city revolution

A smart city revolution

Farid Al-Sabbagh explains why it may take years to realise the true significance of smart city development


Major technological breakthroughs are not often recognised instantly.

When we look at Google, Apple’s iPhone and GPS, to name only a few, we can see that the true significance of these accomplishments was not fully grasped at the time.

This analogy could also apply to ‘smart cities’. We have all heard of smart cities and the benefits they could bring us, but until we feel our own lives are improving, it is difficult – if not impossible – to understand the accomplishment.

We know they are designed to make us happier people and make our lives easier, but do we really recognise at this early stage quite what scale of technological revolution awaits us?

If not, we should make this clear: a new industrial revolution is under way and it will revolutionise how we live in our city. Machines will collaborate with each other and will respond and adapt to our behaviour – they will provide feedback and deliver a solution that is most convenient to us, to make our lives easier.

In order to use information to improve lives, we will need effective data use and technological infrastructure. The internet of things, cloud technology, big data and high performance computing will be integral to the process.

Let us take the example of the recent storms and consequent flooding in Dubai. As many can attest, the traffic conditions in Dubai were chaotic, with certain parts of the city experiencing high water levels and precarious driving conditions. Big data will be able to monitor the traffic conditions, apply ultra-fast analytics and generate real-time information to users through advanced technology, in order to help them navigate around the affected area. Systems can provide real-time urban traffic information to the control centre, which can deploy personnel to manage locations strategically.

Many systems are being developed not only to assess the current conditions, but also a predictive analysis of future conditions.

This process is already under way. Following through His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Maktoum’s, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai, vision for becoming a smart city, several projects are taking shape to link the emirate’s government services and the public. All using smart devices accessed freely using high-speed wireless internet connections. This enjoys the support of government departments in Dubai, including Dubai Police, the Roads and Transport Authority and Dubai Municipality.

The urban proportion of the world population is predicted to rise to 62 per cent by 2030, and there is likely to be more accidents on our roads as a result.

Dubai police have an app that enables users to report a traffic accident, check the status of an application, make a fine payment or report a crime. For a traffic accident, the technology allows the user to locate the nearest police station, record and send details of the accident and forward those details to the station. Following the police investigation, you will be sent a police report via email, which can be sent directly to your insurance company.

Instead of going through the normal channels of calling all the relevant parties and recording the necessary information, which can take time, the app eliminates this and any further stress caused by a traffic accident. This demonstrates that, in order to create a human-centric intelligent society, collaboration is imperative.

Dubai, with technological infrastructure built in to its very core, is certainly at the forefront of the smart city movement. It is large enough to launch ambitious initiatives without them becoming too big to control.

There is more in the pipeline. Remote sensor devices throughout the city will allow for the management of education, healthcare and security functions. Through the use of smart metres, Dubai will rationalise the consumption of water and electricity. It plans to generate and conserve energy through renewable solar panels.

Those who reside in Dubai and all cities involved in the smart city revolution have a responsibility to make this work. What is crucial, at this stage, is to realise how influential each of us can be and how even a small input now can reap huge rewards for all of us, as citizens of Dubai.

As residents, we can all claim some responsibility for improving the six pillars and 100 initiatives central to the strategy of making Dubai smarter; transport, communication, infrastructure, electricity, economic services and urban planning. Without smart citizens, these targets would not have been achieved.

Make no mistake, the revolution is well under way, and it will affect every aspect of our daily lives. As citizens, will we be smart enough to recognise what is happening around us now, or will it slowly sink in over time? To make this work now and bring together people, information and infrastructure we must create value in the digital ecosystem, we need everyone to be on board.

Farid Al-Sabbagh is vice president and managing director at Fujitsu Middle East


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