Smart cities: the future of urban living
Dr. Tarig Enaya, SVP Enterprise at Saudi Telecom Company, explains how smart technology is enhancing urban life, and shaping the cities of the future
We are living through an age of rapid urbanisation, on a scale not witnessed since the first wave of industrialisation in the 18th century that provided the impetus for the rapid growth of urban population in the 19th century.
The United Nations’ current estimates put 55 per cent of the world’s population living in urban areas. According to The Economist, by 2050 about 64 per cent of the developing world population will dwell in urban areas and 86 per cent of the developed world will be urbanised. Much of this urbanisation is expected to happen in Africa and Asia.
What this means is that today around 4 billion human beings rely on urban infrastructure to keep them warm, mobile and clean. Technology helps with this of course: Digital sensors, smart phones and smart home appliances allow for a new kind of understanding between citizens and city officials.
In this so-called ‘smart city’, information and communication technologies (ICT) and the internet of things (IoT) are used to enhance city living. New technology and data is used for solving the cities’ economic, social and environmental challenges. Smart cities are a major part of achieving the goal set by the United Nations of making urban environments “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.
Cities across the world are pursuing smart city initiatives. Technology investment related to smart cities is expected to double in the next four years globally and reach $158bn by 2022, according to market intelligence and advisory firm IDC. The figure is expected to touch $2.7bn in the Middle East and Africa region, with Dubai and Riyadh leading the way.
Smart cities are an important part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which forms a blueprint for the country’s future and is driving investment in the kingdom. One of the vision’s major themes is building a ‘vibrant society with fulfilling lives’, and developing cities that ‘enhance the quality for all and meet the needs and requirements of our citizens’ is a major focus area. So much so that one specific goal is to have three Saudi cities be recognised in the top-ranked 100 cities in the world by 2030.
Investments focus on enhancing existing cities as well as building new cities altogether – be it the ongoing Yanbu Smart City and King Abdullah Economic City projects, or the planned NEOM City – a $500bn project envisaged as a model for all futuristic cities in the world.
HOW TECHNOLOGY IS TRANSFORMING CITIES
Here are some examples of how emerging technologies are making urban living easier.
Many cities in the world are faced with a growing number of natural and humanmade calamities such as floods, fire outbreaks, oil spills, terror attacks, and so on. The loss in terms of human life, infrastructure, and property is immense, and governments are mostly left unwarned and unprepared to face such situations.
However, the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), big data analytics, mobile apps, and cloud is digitally transforming emergency management services. Early-warning systems which use these technologies allow city administrators and emergency management personnel to detect and respond effectively to such disasters. The systems help city officials alert residents, halt critical infrastructure to minimise impact, reroute traffic, and deploy resources as quickly as possible.
The IoT-enabled sensors can also provide better situational awareness which makes the work of fire fighters, paramedics, police, and search and rescue teams more effective. For example, the sensors can provide critical information about the harmful chemical components involved in fires as well as heat levels and prediction of fire patterns.
A similar advancement is happening in law enforcement as well. The everincreasing use of sensors and cameras in public places is making policing more data-driven. The focus is on aggregating digital assets to optimise the end-to-end law enforcement process from investigation, and evidence management, to the judicial process.
This has resulted in the emergence of a variety of real-time centers. The objective of these centers is to increase situational awareness, improve response time, better evidence collection, better information transfer between agencies, identification of patterns and prevention of crime. These real-time centers use a variety of technologies such as video analytics, mobile apps, sensors, augmented and virtual reality tools, video walls, advanced analytics, recognition
software (for facial, license plate, palm, gait etc.), cognitive systems, and cloud to achieve these objectives.
For example, the Dutch National Police have been testing an augmented reality system that streams body-worn video to subject matter experts located remotely. The experts guide responding officers, who, may be first on the scene, but may not necessarily be the most qualified to address the issue. The technology also has applications in crime investigation training.
By 2020, 15 per cent of large global city and state emergency management organisations will use a combination of augmented and virtual reality solutions to improve situational awareness with remote incident management and virtual subject matter expertise, predicts IDC.
The tourism sector is becoming smart through providing interactive and realtime experiences to visitors. One of the best examples come from Makkah in Saudi Arabia – one of the most visited destinations in the world.
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah’s Manasikana App guides pilgrims through every step of the journey using a combination of various emerging technologies. As well as providing all necessary information in one place, the app uses smart wearable devices to provide real-time tracking of pilgrims, real-time health monitoring, one-touch access to emergency services, instant translation services, and more. The future looks even more interesting, as all Hajj pilgrims will receive a package including smart card, earphones, and wrist band before they travel to enable a smooth end-to-end experience. Smart cards will facilitate immigration control, train travel, and hotel accommodation; while wristbands and earpieces will provide information and support services for pilgrims, including real-time tracking and translation services.
Another key focus when it comes to building smarter cities is intelligent transportation. There are various components to an intelligent transportation system: advanced public transit, intelligent traffic management, smart parking, and connected and autonomous vehicles among them.
Transport authorities across the world are using a combination of smart cards, mobile apps, sensors, cloud, and analytics to improve journey planning, onboard passenger experience, safety, customer information collection, and fleet and operations management.
Parking is another key challenge that local authorities need to tackle. Many cities are experimenting with various levels of smart parking systems ranging from guiding drivers to vacant spaces to automated violations detection.
SHARED VISION AND COLLABORATION
Technology is at the heart of smart cities. However, digital transformation of the urban ecosystem must start with a common vision – identifying the core elements to delivering on that vision, and finding the right partners for implementing critical use cases.
Smart city initiatives cannot happen in silos; they cut across various sectors and involve multiple agencies. Thus, building an ecosystem of partners that includes the public and private sectors, academia, citizens, and the technology industry, forms a critical element of building a smart city.
According to IDC, by 2019 up to 50 per cent of smart city projects globally will be funded via PPPs (publicprivate partnerships), non-profit initiatives, or association through MoUs (memoranda of understanding) between city authorities and technology providers. These show that new ways to work together beyond the traditional procurement models will be required to design, deploy and manage the digital-enablement of modern cities
Urbanisation is a reality the world is facing, and the sustainability of our cities is in question. Governments across the world have realised the potential of emerging technologies in making cities smarter and livable in the modern age.
Organisations should work together on a shared vision to achieve the true potential of these technologies in an urban living context.