Abu Dhabi and Dubai expand their smart city horizons this year

For several years now, Dubai has actively stated and promoted its ambition to become the world’s first ‘true’ smart city. While this term takes on a variety of definitions across the world, at its heart it conveys the image of an urban environment capable of fully transforming itself by leveraging emerging technologies to become truly interconnected and, naturally, smart in every sense. With new smart city projects coming to life in Dubai in early 2019, this claim grows stronger by the day.

The same can be said of Abu Dhabi, which follows the same path and – to many analysts – actually surpasses its fellow emirate in smart city status. Recently ranked number one in the MENA region in a study produced by the McKinsey Global Institute named: 'Smart Cities: Digital Solutions for a More Liveable Future', Abu Dhabi also continues to attract attention and investment for all manner of networked digital solutions.

Dubai: Moving faster and smarter towards the future

Critical to Dubai’s vision is its plan to drive the widespread adoption of smart mobility measures designed to banish the current misery of the city’s chronic traffic jams to the past. By 2025, Dubai aims to have 25% of all its journeys managed by driverless transportation, as AI-powered solutions come take the stress, expense and pollution out of city-wide travel. Along with previously showcased flying AI taxis, 2019 has also seen the trialling of driverless taxis in the Dubai Silicon Oasis area. If successful in their test runs, autonomous cabs will provide an essential ‘last-mile’ solution to be layered in with Dubai Metro and Tram systems.

Also this year, Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) began testing two models of “Sky Pods” in partnership with Skyway Greentech Co. The first is small, lightweight Unibike designed for two riders and can attain a top speed of 150kmph. The second, larger model is the Unicar, designed for longer journeys. Both types of Sky Pod will hang from specially designed rails connected across high-rise buildings of Dubai, offering an autonomous, traffic-free alternative means of travel.

Perhaps the biggest showpiece in the UAE transportation pipeline is the Hyperloop, which will begin construction in Q3 of this year, with the first 10km due to open in 2020. Connecting Dubai to Abu Dhabi with a journey time of just 12 minutes, the Hyperloop will undoubtedly cement the ‘smart’ status of both cities.

Smart infrastructure and services are also essential ingredients in the smart city vision for Dubai, a fact that the city will showcase effectively in March this year when Emirati telco du will officially open Silicon Park, its first integrated smart city project. Silicon Park will offer its visitors 60 distinct smart services, from electric vehicles charging stations to smart pop-up furniture, giving Dubai inhabitants a glimpse of their fully interconnected lifestyle to come.

Abu Dhabi: Smart within just 5 years?

McKinsey’s recent report saw Abu Dhabi narrowly beating Dubai in terms of the strength of their respective smart city technology bases (18.4 to 17.3), demonstrating that the UAE capital certainly has the ability to lead the country and indeed the region in the race to achieving lasting urban smartness.

October of last year saw the Department of Urban Planning and Municipalities in Abu Dhabi launch its pilot phase of the Zayed Smart City Project: a five-year plan to promote the development of smart city technologies, largely powered by Artificial Intelligence. While the pilot project of proof-of-concept use case technologies is centred in the ‘Corniche Area’ of Abu Dhabi, the proliferation of smart services through IoT and AI platforms will be spread throughout the city between now and late 2022.

Along with its ongoing development of smart mobility solutions similar to Dubai, Abu Dhabi is also delivering smart projects that will completely rebalance the equation of urban living, which is so often associated with waste and environmental damage. Just last month, for example, Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City demonstrated its Smart Home Farming Showcase called ‘Bustani’ at one of its prototype Eco-Villas. This year-long open exhibition unveils 15 separate technological innovations that will allow Abu Dhabi’s citizens to grow their own food sustainably at home, turning consumers into producers and radically improving food security for the city and wider region.

UAE smart city plans gather pace

Both cities are representative of the UAE’s urgent drive towards achieving greater sustainability, efficiency and quality of life for its people in the face of pressing challenges both economic and environmental. Like the smart city concept itself, various strands of technological advancement are starting to come together and mould into a much more interconnected ecosystem designed to improve each area of urban living in tandem. From the various smart mobility measures which are forging a true ‘whole journey’ smart transport system, to the smart infrastructure that seeks to sustainably feed, water and power its citizens and their homes, the UAE’s leading cities are making much more rapid progress as 2019 begins to unfold.