Incredible Technology and Innovations making Dubai a Global Smart City

Dubai has successfully evolved an enterprising identity for itself on the world stage in recent decades. As a commercial centre, tourist attraction and home to the regional initiatives of numerous multi-national corporations, the city’s resident population has increased at an unprecedented rate that is unique in the world. This rapid expansion is at the heart of Dubai’s rise as a great metropolis and its assumption of a more active role in global macroeconomics, onwards to becoming a global smart city.

The social, economic and environmental demands created by a growing urban population and a continuous quest for being the ‘best in the world’ has been driving Dubai’s vision to become the world’s first smartest city by 2021. In line with this vision, Dubai is pursuing a very ambitious Information & Communication Technology (ICT) integration program, alongside progressive governance and regulatory reforms. But the roots of Dubai’s emphasis on a technology-driven transformation can be drawn to the first shoots of this focus, which appeared in ICT strategy, which was announced in 1999 (1).  

In subsequent years this initiative has expanded through the launch of Dubai Internet City, the Dubai e-government initiative, Dubai Smart Government and, most recently, the Smart Dubai initiative. The government led adoption, and policy direction has found a resonance within the business, and resident communities of the city, and Dubai can be justifiably proud of having the highest levels of ICT integration and deployment in the MENA region (2). Gemini Property Developers CEO Sunil Gomes feels the Dubai Government’s clarity of vision, under the leadership of Sheikh Mohammad, represents an opportunity for the city to emerge as the world’s best adopter of technological innovation. As this vibrant metropolis of nearly 2.7 million people stands at the cusp of becoming an even larger and more potent version of itself, Sunil believes the best news is that the leadership has embraced goals of excellence that aspire to lead the world rather than the region alone.

Harnessing technology the smart way

His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and the Ruler of Dubai, has articulated an inspirational set of targets for a smart future. His vision, laid out in the Smart Dubai 2021 strategy, seeks to prioritise people’s happiness while harnessing technology to benefit the people economy and resources of Dubai. This vision has helped Dubai revolutionise the way government services are delivered to people, and has seen the launch of over 100 smart initiatives and more than 1000 smart services by various government departments and private sector partners in less than three years. The initiatives have ranged from various metrics to measure resident and visitor happiness, governance & convenience to provisioning smart meters for electricity supply to smart automation in buildings and homes as well as embedding intelligence in other industries like infrastructure, resources, energy, education, healthcare and essentials such as fresh water and primary produce. But innovation has been the cornerstone of the progress achieved so far and planned for the future.

Innovation a key driver for a smart city model

Self-driving cars, automated ports, testing of delivery robots, flying taxis, hyperloop, social robots – all this innovation which might seem like it belongs in a sci-fi movie, is a day’s work in Dubai. And it is this pioneering usage of drones and robotics for public services balanced with a focus on resident/visitor ‘happiness’ that has earned Dubai a place in the world’s top 3 model smart cities, right next to Tokyo and Singapore, as chosen by Mateja Kovacic, a University of Sheffield visiting research fellow! (4)

Recently ranked the ‘Most Innovative City’ in the region by 2thinknow’s 2018 Global City Ranking for the Innovation Cities Index, Dubai is also No.1 for deployment of smart city applications, while registering the highest awareness, usage and satisfaction among its residents. (5) Similarly, a McKinsey & Company report titled ‘Smart Cities: Digital Solutions for a More Liveable Future” also deemed Dubai a top city in the Middle East and Africa in terms of deployment of the greatest number of applications. (6)

Smart Dubai initiative, a transformation underway

Dubai has left no stone unturned in its pursuit of its vision to become a global Smart City. The Smart Dubai initiative presents a roadmap to achieve the same. It encompasses various aspects that aim to create a smart digital urban environment that enhances every parameter of livability and digitally enabled convenience. The programs within its scope include lean but highly connected administration, an economy empowered by disruptive technologies, public services that are accessible to all, cutting edge mobility solutions and an environmentally sustainable city. Technologies that have made it to the top of the agenda include IoT, Blockchain, Big Data analytics, AI and Robotics, Autonomous Vehicles, a Hyperloop project and 3D Printing based manufacturing. 

The Smart Dubai initiative brings together the following seven principle areas of focus (7):

  • AI principles and ethics: Smart Dubai’s Ethical AI Toolkit provides guidelines for industry, academia and the wider community to deploy AI responsibly.
  • Startup Support: Top-down commitment can only create an environment. Innovation grows organically, and Smart Dubai initiative is providing support for tech-driven entrepreneurship to tap this potential.
  • Happiness Agenda: The initiative seeks to retain a human-centric focus through an emphasis on happiness and wellbeing as primary goals.
  • AI Lab: The Smart Dubai initiative includes Dubai’s first Artificial Intelligence Smart Lab, to gestate and accelerate innovations that drive the focus on becoming the smartest city of the world.
  • Dubai Blockchain Strategy: Few tech breakthroughs hold as dramatic a practical potential as Blockchain. Smart Dubai has the ambitious target of making Dubai the world’s first fully Blockchain enabled city by 2020.
  • Paperless Dubai: In another initiative demonstrating the Dubai government’s commitment to rapid transformation, it aims to go completely paper-free by 2021. Dubai’s Paperless Strategy will eliminate more than 1 billion paper-based transactions.
  • Smart Cities Global Network: The largest international network of smart city stakeholders, it aims to ring together partners that share a passion for advanced technology, Fourth-Industrial-Revolution breakthroughs, smart living, and spreading happiness in the community with tech-enabled, human-centric services.

Sunil believes Dubai’s identity as a city is fundamentally interwoven with an underlying drive towards reinvention and creating the unprecedented. And Sunil feels it is this ability to manifest ambitions across society to a scale that has never before been accomplished that will play the definitive role in enabling Dubai to emerge as the world leader in smart urbanisation.


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