24 - 26 September 2024

Riyadh International Convention
& Exhibition Center

You have landed in Riyadh in the future; it’s your first visit. As you make your way to the nearby e-sports gaming arena, a sense of anticipation and excitement permeates the air. During your journey, you can see the landscape is adorned with smart lights, and express drones efficiently deliver food and other goods across the city. The streets are teeming with lightweight, e-powered, and autonomous vehicles, easing congestion. Moving around is seamless and enjoyable. When it comes time to settle the cab fare, you can do so with facial recognition technology — no card or phone is needed.

As you take your seat in the arena, a personalized experience awaits you, tailored to your preferences. Your name, preferred temperature, and meal are already prepared and waiting. The match begins right on time.

Welcome to the smart city of tomorrow.

Saudi Arabia stands at the forefront of some of today’s most ambitious residential, entertainment, and business developments, leading to an expected infrastructure spend of a trillion dollars according to Construction Week Middle East.

At the core of these projects lies an expectation for technology providers and governments to collaborate, aiming to build cities of the future that positively impact residents.

The key to unlocking Riyadh’s smart city future is IoT – the Internet of Things. This term, associated with the advent of the smart home, smart community, and smart city, has been around for some time. IoT technologies act as a 24/7 layer that adds to a city’s texture, revolutionizing every vertical of life. This spans from residential hubs to hospitality and everything in between, encompassing business, entertainment, food, retail, accessibility, mobility, education, culture, health, and wellbeing.

It’s projected that there will be 30 billion IoT-connected devices globally by 2030, which means the way residents and visitors live, work, and play in the city will transform completely. This projection equates to around three to four IoT devices per citizen — and our analysis indicates that Saudi residents are likely to go above this average.

The likes of the International Telecommunication Union, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the International Monetary Fund agree that a smart city can be defined as one that deploys cutting-edge digital technologies to connect, protect, and enhance the lives of its residents. By this definition, Riyadh is already well on its way to becoming a leader, driven by its robust smart city strategy, which is in line with Vision 2030 objectives. A few key examples include Qiddiya’s future-forward entertainment venues and ROSHN’s smart residential developments that will use cutting-edge technology in the planning, construction, and end-user stages.

The shifting roles of the next society

Let’s imagine you are a resident in one of these future developments in Riyadh, and you are going about your day at some point in the next decade.

Envision airports where you never lay eyes on your luggage until it arrives at your home. Picture food trucks and restaurants that know about your allergies and dietary restrictions, catering to you without you having to tell them. Picture autonomous vehicles and public transport systems that transform the concept of travel, dramatically shortening distances, and connecting cultures at never-before-seen rates. Then imagine longevity medicine becoming a standard and staple of healthcare systems, shifting paradigms of working age, pensions, and demographics.

A ubiquitous digital layer will permeate every single interaction — from the home to the vehicle which may be an aerial autonomous vehicle at this stage, and from the workplace to the entertainment venues. Everything will be measured, calculated, estimated, and confidentially analyzed.

How the smart city will be truly alive

"The key to unlocking Riyadh’s smart city future is IoT – the Internet of Things. This term, associated with the advent of the smart home, smart community, and smart city, has been around for some time." - Jad Haddad

Our current framework of thinking sees IoT and related technologies as mere add-ons. In contrast, our hypothesis sees the ‘smart’ element of the smart city as a fully integrated component that doesn’t just enhance daily life but elevates it to unseen levels of ‘urban cognition’. This means that cities will be much more like living beings than ever before, able to ‘sense’ inputs from residents, and then provide outputs automatically and autonomously.

Take, for example, the very serious example of a transit accident between two autonomous vehicles in a future smart city. In this situation, ambulances and emergency services would be automatically dispatched, aided by technology that efficiently assesses and communicates the necessary medical treatments to minimize risk and injury. This streamlined process reduces the need for extensive mobilization while ensuring swift responses and improved health outcomes.

In terms of how we see daily life evolving, we envisage an IoT-based infrastructure being ubiquitous: all platforms interconnected and constantly but privately and securely talking to each other — ranging from personal handheld devices to transportation vehicles and buildings.

By offloading processing needs and requirements to the cloud and embracing edge computing-powered devices and infrastructure or even quantum, we can expect a profound transformation in our daily interactions across various domains such as banking, entertainment, advertising, and mobility. This paradigm shift will not only offload processing needs and requirements to the cloud but also empower devices to become as capable as the networks they are connected to. Additionally, the exponential growth in data transfer speed, upload, and download will revolutionize the way we consume media.

The ever-growing iterations and integrations of artificial intelligence will also transform the way we understand our cities. Picture an entire population study or implementation strategy being generated in seconds from just a few prompts, powered by smart city connectivity. We’ll know more about our cities, and the insights will be data-driven, and this will ultimately help to improve them.

Taking into consideration the economic impact of implementing IoT across virtually all layers of ordinary life is essential — as is ensuring that diversification goals and sustainability measures are considered and accomplished.

Citizens, companies, and governments alike will gain a degree of autonomy previously untapped in human history. With all the power and responsibility, it becomes of utmost importance to have partners equipped with operational know-how and expertise in future-proofing, implementation, and the phased roll-out of policies, regulations, and efforts.

Beyond the specific examples of how one type of technology might look in the future, we strongly believe that there is an overarching story being told at a higher level — one of change, prosperity, and innovation. In this narrative, the key players are not yet fully defined, and a race to build the true smart city of the next century is already being run.

While the picture of the future city is quickly becoming clearer, the exact shape smart cities take will evolve as the technologies do. One thing, however, is certain: Riyadh’s current emphasis on boosting its strong smart city ambitions today will help attract talent, business, and overall economic growth. And that is smart by anyone’s measure.

• Jad Haddad is head of digital at management consultancy Oliver Wyman in India, the Middle East, and Africa

Source: Arab News