Comment: How to build tomorrow's cities - today

Comment: How to build tomorrow's cities - today

Urban planning, Cities, Evoteq, Technology

This article was originally published in Arabian Business

Imagine waking in a building where the temperature has adjusted itself overnight based on weather forecasts and occupancy. Meanwhile, an inhouse AI system was scanning protected areas for unwanted intrusions, and sent notifications of a maintenance issue so that it could be fixed before you even noticed there was a problem.

You enjoy an uninterrupted journey to work, thanks to an integrated transport network where the traffic lights are finely tuned to whatever is happening on the roads, and public transport systems are constantly reacting to real-time updates.

Upon reaching the office you pull into your pre-booked parking space, and then walk into an office that already recognises who you are, where you need to go and alerts the relevant people to your arrival. A meeting room is already booked, with your presentation waiting to go, and the ambient lighting and temperature set to your preference when you walk in the room. Oh, and your favourite drink is waiting for you.

As you go about your day, the building offers guidance, books appointments, documents information, reviews staff duties, allocates resources and auto-fills applications. In fact, most of the points of friction in your normal day are removed, saving you precious time and allowing you to do what you do best.

And now imagine that the complex itself is interacting with the environment around it, constantly monitoring its power usage to ensure that not an ounce of energy is wasted.

I will say more about this seemingly futuristic scenario shortly, but first some background. By 2030 there will be one billion more humans on this planet, three quarters of who will live in cities. Also, we must think about the environment: buildings create 33 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally, while motor vehicles account for 20 percent of emissions.

Reassessing our building stock and transport habits is a vital place to start when considering smart city plans.

And finally, any city authority must understand that sustainability and technology are not end goals for smart cities, but rather the means to achieving what really matters: places where people can thrive.

EVOTEQ was built on the belief that now is the time to not just improve the way our buildings, businesses and economies run, but to transform them for the good of everyone. In the coming decade, artificial intelligence is expected to add $320bn to the Middle East economies. This presents an incredible opportunity, but businesses must know that this change won’t be incremental - a total rethink of all our systems and practices is required. In every sector imaginable, there is a chance to implement new technologies that will change our lives for the better.

And this is not the only benefit. If we truly use our imagination and talents, we can use these technologies to help create a new ‘circular economy’ where resources are not wasted and instead put to maximum use. This will be a far more sustainable method of operating - and one that serves our citizens today and the generations to come.

At EVOTEQ, we drive the digitalisation agenda through four key pillars: infrastructure services, cloud and platform services, business applications and, smart city and IoT solutions.

But what I want to talk about in this column are the steps we are taking today to create the smart offices, buildings and cities of the future. We are introducing the region’s first integrated Artificial Intelligence Platform PaaS-based (Platform as a Service), which will digitally transform offices into streamlined, sustainable, next-generation workplaces.

Our first project is at Bee’ah’s fully AI-integrated “office of the future” in Sharjah, which will be one of the smartest and greenest buildings in the world, and a blueprint for smart and sustainable offices of the future. At GITEX, we will announce another major civic project, with more to follow in the UAE and then, in time, the region.

To develop the groundbreaking smart building solutions, we partnered with the very best: Microsoft, and Johnson Controls. Working closely together, we are outfitting the new complex with intelligent edge systems, devices and software designed to optimise energy efficiency and help the building’s occupants be more productive, through a virtual AI persona that has its own persona and voice-activated interface. This seamless design experience transforms traditional building systems with services that merge the physical and digital worlds.

This will greatly benefit worker comfort and productivity, but we also had sustainability very much in mind. To help achieve this latter goal, we have developed a ‘digital twin’ that replicates the physical building in a digital model. This SaaS-based system learns the optimum conditions for heat, cooling and other parameters and applies them as necessary. It also detects under-populated areas, unused lighting or excessive chilling and responds accordingly.

At GITEX, we will also announce more developments related to our Smart Transport initiative, specifically parking, which costs people valuable time and energy on a daily basis. But our work more broadly in this field reimagines the future of a city’s transport management through AI and Machine Learning in a connected platform.

We are utilising smart cameras and sensors to track the routes of municipal and waste collection vehicles. This makes monitoring easier, faster and more efficient. An AI system evaluates driver behaviour, vehicle utilisation, fuel consumption and carbon emissions. It recommends better routes and conducts diagnosis for damaged vehicles and dispatch services.

These fit into the broader picture of smart cities. Creating the cities of tomorrow is not the job of any one private or public entity, but rather a concerted effort by multiple partners, all aimed at making our urban centres safer, greener, more efficient, enjoyable places to live.

To give some more examples of this in action, we are building a Track & Trace platform to ensure global supply chain integrity. This can be readily deployed across many verticals, with examples including the automotive industry, for validating genuine spare parts; halal food verification; taxation of FMCG products, such as soft drinks and tobacco products; identifying luxury goods imitations, and counterfeit drugs detection, to name just a few use cases.

We are also strategic partners on a major digitisation project with civic authorities in the UAE; and we also launched Sharjah’s first blockchain Waste Permit Portal, increasing traceability, efficiency and security.

All these activities require leaps of imagination. Fortunately, we have governments in this region who have the required vision to lead this change, and who require likeminded private organisations who can partner on ambitious, innovative projects. In the coming years, we expect to see smarter, greener cities and many more businesses that leverage the benefits of new technology to power their operations. We’re excited about what this means for our region’s economy, the positive impact this will have on the environment, and the multiple benefits this will bring to our citizens.

Jihad Tayara is CEO of Evoteq.

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