As a leading AI City developer in Asia, choosing the UAE for Terminus Group's first international HQ was one of the simplest decisions to make in relation to the company's international expansion. This was due to the synergies and shared goals between the company and the UAE leadership's commitment to be at the pioneering edge of bringing smart and AI city development to the world.
This decision has been further vindicated, as we note the recently released IMD Smart City Index 2023 saw Abu Dhabi claiming the title of 'Smartest City in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region' for the third year running, and 13th globally. Dubai, ranking second in MENA and 17th globally, clearly demonstrates the UAE's pioneering commitment to developing this rapidly growing sector.
The next stage of evolution for the smart city, into the AI City, is very much a phase that is seeing speedy adoption by forward-thinking authorities and major industry players. The benefits and need for more efficient and innovative solutions, to match the demands of future cities and their residents, is also becoming a realisation that no one can ignore. From new builds to the digital twinning of overlayed technology on existing urban infrastructure, a new generation of smart city is being developed. The growing use and combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are the key drivers and core factors demonstrating how a city's services and infrastructure can be made more efficient, sustainable, and improve quality of life and convenience for its residents and workers.
This coming together and integration of AI and IoT – or 'AIoT' as it is now more commonly referred – is helping realise the creation of a new generation of smart cities that will see technology helping people enjoy a greater interaction with their urban surroundings and improving quality of life. And while, traditionally, urban development has been seen as in opposition to environmental factors or safer living, the latest technology – deployed effectively across urban environments – can actually assist municipalities and authorities work towards and achieve the global net zero goals.
As the Founder and CEO of a company that works with many different organizations, commercial enterprises, and municipalities in different countries around the world, I have been able to witness how these two technologies combine to improve the efficiency of cities. In fact, AIoT technology R&D, as well as creating and developing the technology for city-wide platforms to accommodate such advances, is at the very core of our company mission.
So just what are these AIoT technologies responsible for creating this new wave of urban innovation? And in what ways will cities become more dynamic and responsive, in ways that will improve the lives of residents and citizens?
AIoT – The technology behind the next generation Smart City
From the realms of science-fiction to science fact, AI is a much talked about addition to the technology that is already making an impact on our daily lives. But what does it mean when applied in combination with IoT devices? Well, noting that, in 2023, around 77 per cent of the world's devices are either already operating or are IoT-ready, most applications are already much closer to home than you may think, and many can be used to provide real-world solutions and convenience.
Of course, we have heard a lot recently about what AI can do in terms of chatbot assistants and content generation, but the most common examples of AI being used in smart cities is perhaps lesser known. This is the use of applications that are connected to the Internet of Things, which allow devices to collate information and analyse such things as energy usage. Such applications not only allow companies to be better informed of patterns of energy use, they can also be used to help save individuals money on their utility bills by improving the efficiency of both the devices and inspire changes to the frequency or household habits, in the use of their operations.
Living as we do at a time of increased sensitivity to utility prices, a recent study in the UK showed that, on average, households with smart meters can make savings of around 2 to 3 per cent on gas and electricity bills, respectively, with further savings to be had if using smart meters to understand the timings that a national grid or energy supplier's usage times are higher or lower. By allocating use accordingly then an individual household's energy usage can be optimally utilized.
When it comes to transportation, anyone living in a densely populated, urban environment, knows about traffic congestion. And according to the United Nations, people living within some form of urban environment now applies to most of the world's population. Here again, connected applications play their part as part of intelligent structures that are designed to provide various functions, including the analysis of traffic conditions, congestion hotspots and allow city planners to make informed decisions on how to resolve or create new solutions to address such issues.
As vehicles are set to become more autonomous in the future, AI technology will not only allow for smoother traffic flows in the present, but also offer solutions based on anticipated traffic conditions in the future – and the respective infrastructural recommendations, if needed. Of course, this is an area that new build cities can account for in the planning stages, but they can be equally effective as an overlayed digital twin on existing infrastructure, in older cities, so as to fully realise the potential benefits.
Smart city management: From planning to citizen engagement
Despite the numerous advantages and efficiencies of smart cities, it is often the case that municipalities do not yet know exactly what they need, in terms of the technology that can assist them integrate existing legacy infrastructure with the new. That said, even when the recognition of the solutions needed is known, there may also be other obstacles – like a lack of expertise or funding to implement it. That is why it is critical that authorities, municipalities, and technology leaders maintain an open channel with each other and work hand-in-hand to identify and establish a clear path towards achieving those goals.
Such initiatives can only be brought about effectively when all stakeholders are working in unison, such as tech providers, municipalities, and regular engagement with the communities living there. This will allow them to gather valuable feedback and insight and ensure that the technology is implemented in a way that is beneficial to the residents.
Of course, getting the necessary resources and planning for smart city development can be expensive. However, it is still possible to achieve the goals of these initiatives without over-investing. For instance, savings can be made and felt almost immediately by integrating smart technology into existing infrastructure and – most importantly – addressing the needs of its citizens.
Forecasts: The Future of Smart Cities
The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs estimates that while today around 55 per cent of the world's population resides within urban areas, this percentage is expected to increase to 68 per cent, by 2050. For additional context, in 2016 there were over 500 urban areas with populations of more than one million people and 31 'megacities' – those with ten million or more inhabitants. Again, according to UN figures, by 2030, the number of cities and megacities is expected to increase to over 660 city areas and 40 or more megacities. Interestingly, it is predicted that many of these will be in emerging regions – not just extensions to existing city structures, in more developed regions.
Based off this trend, the evolution of AIoT technologies will certainly be at the core of helping develop and managing the future of smart or AI cities. In doing so, the need for more predictive analytics and information-driven decision-making is key. Therefore, as the technology continues to evolve, it is important that the leaders at authorities and municipal levels take a comprehensive view of their projects, to ensure that the benefits reach across social, economic, and infrastructural needs, and provide everyone with an improved standard of life, work and convenience.