This article was originally published in Arabian Business.
For over 160 years, World Fairs have previewed innovations that have shaped our lives. Much of the technology we take for granted today – touchscreens and colour television for example – were first unveiled to the public at an Expo.
Our company founder, Werner von Siemens, revealed his new pointer telegraph at the inaugural fair in London in 1851. This innovation played an instrumental role in his company’s business in the Middle East and in revolutionising international communications.
It seemed fitting then, that on my recent visit to the Expo 2020 Dubai site I had my own preview experience of a future city, as imagined by the Expo. And unlike the cities we know today, it will be supported by a completely digitalised infrastructure.
Infrastructure plays a pivotal role in economic competitiveness and quality of life. Yet many cities’ infrastructure systems are under pressure from rising demand for energy and water, and the negative effects of urbanisation, such as congestion and air pollution. If humanity is to tackle big challenges like population growth and climate change, cities will need to place sustainability at their core. That is why the themes of Expo 2020, sustainability, opportunity and mobility, are so timely.
Technology can tackle the negative impacts of urbanisation
City dwellers are all too familiar with the stresses of city living – increasing traffic, noise and pollution. Digitalisation can help us tackle the negative impacts of urbanisation.
When we combine data with digital technologies like AI, machine learning, simulation software and automation, we can create intelligent and responsive systems that optimise performance and resource use.
According to a McKinsey study, smart city applications could reduce emissions by 10-20 percent, lower water consumption by 20-30 percent and cut commuting times by 15-20 percent. But many cities have yet to implement technologies that offer the most potential.
This is what will make Expo 2020 Dubai so different from any world fair before it. More than just a platform for showcasing innovative technology, the infrastructure itself will be a step forward in digital cities.
During my visit, a first building of the Expo site was connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) via an app co-created by Siemens and Expo 2020 Dubai. Currently in test phase at the site office building, the cloud-based app incorporates environmental monitoring and smart irrigation, and will eventually be scaled up to digitalise the full Expo ecosystem.
Data from more than 200,000 sensors will be captured, analysed in the cloud and visualised on site, enabling real-time monitoring and control to reduce energy and water usage and ensure a safe, comfortable environment for visitors. Eventually, the app will make use of AI and machine learning to support predictions, such as using weather data and modelling to predict the likelihood of a weather event, and inform Expo operations to prepare the infrastructure accordingly.
As with any city, the Expo’s infrastructure is inherently complex with around 25 million visits expected in 2020; roughly the population of Shanghai. Our ambition is that the learnings from the application of digital technologies at Expo 2020 Dubai will inform the development of future smart cities around the world.
Cities don’t need to go it alone
Due to the pace of change in the digital age, some companies choose to collaborate with an ecosystem of partners. One approach we take is to co-create solutions at our MindSphere Application Centres around the world. Using Siemens’ open IoT operating system MindSphere, software developers and domain experts co-create solutions with customers to tackle their pain points. Each centre focusses on a specific industry, like the centre in Hong Kong, which concentrates on smart city solutions. With this approach we can innovate quickly, scale up and share intelligence. For example, an application to tackle air pollution developed in Hong Kong could be adapted for a city such as Buenos Aires.
As Expo 2020 Dubai shows, a co-creation approach can also work for cities. Urban authorities can work with partners that possess the digital skills and resources needed to create smart cities. They don’t need to go it alone. By working with the private sector, universities and local interests, they can tap into the creative and entrepreneurial forces within their cities. And the beauty of digital technologies is that they facilitate open innovation and collaboration. Open IoT operating systems like MindSphere – with which the Expo 2020 Dubai smart city app is being developed – provide tools for businesses, startups and urban bodies to harness data and develop applications that solve real-world challenges.
Smart technologies can help cities of all sizes and geographies to improve quality of life, as part of an overall strategy. Most cities are only at the beginning of their smart city transformation. The “Smart Dubai” initiative, with its focus on collaboration and technology innovations to create a smart, happier city, can serve as an example for other cities. And in creating one of the most connected World Expos in history, Expo 2020 Dubai will take us one step closer today to the smart, sustainable cities we will take for granted in the future.