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Dubai's Gitex 2018 shows why construction needs smart city tech

Smart cities are no longer science fiction, but do regional contractors understand this yet?

Dubai is the home of the Middle East's smart city movement, but are construction contractors open to new technology concepts?
Dubai is the home of the Middle East's smart city movement, but are construction contractors open to new technology concepts?

Industry conversation around smart cities has intensified in the last few years, with events such as Dubai’s ongoing Gitex Technology Week providing a platform for construction companies to better understand how digitisation can improve their output.

This week has been illuminating for Construction Week, as we have had the opportunity to explore the various tools showcased at Gitex 2018 – many of which are geared towards supporting ‘smart’ city infrastructure.

PODCAST: Is Gulf construction ready for the smart city future?

Unsurprisingly, the UAE’s government entities are leading the smart city movement, as was evidenced by the launch of numerous public sector-backed services, such as UAE Pass.

As reported by CW’s sister title, ITP.net, Smart Dubai partnered with the UAE’s Telecommunication Regulatory Authority to launch the national digital identity and signature system, which will allow users to access local and federal services through their smartphones, cutting paper wastage and eliminating the need for office visits

Privately owned technology companies are equally excited by smart city prospects in the region – especially for the built environment. At Gitex 2018, SAP told Construction Week that it was targeting Saudi Arabia’s $500bn (SAR1.9tn) Neom gigaproject with its smart city portfolio. 

“We have many examples on the table that could help smart cities across the region, such as Neom, to achieve their goals,” said senior vice president and managing director for SAP Middle East North, Ahmed Al-Faifi. “Smart infrastructure at Neom could also ensure hospitals get a heads-up beforehand if there is an incident. All these things need to be synchronised in one system; otherwise, it is very complex to manage all the different moving parts.”

SAP’s update came a day after a UAE-owned company launched a prototype of sensor-fitted clothing for outdoor workers. Crescent Enterprises’ chief executive officer, Badr Jafar, said many items in the firm’s clothing line include “little sensors” that can be used by foremen to monitor the health of their staff. Jafar said that while foremen want to keep track of health concerns such as low blood pressure or fatigue, they “usually do not know until it is too late”.

READ: Dubai South-Huawei ink smart city systems deal

He added: “But with tiny sensors that are very cheap embedded into these suits, the foremen in their offices can have a full map of all the vitals of all their workers on site.”

In fact, even overall site safety can be enhanced through smart technology, such as internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI). Speaking to Construction Week at Gitex 2018 earlier this week, Microsoft said that IoT and AI could help to acquire historical data, reduce project delays, and prevent site fires.

Necip Ozyucel, cloud and enterprise group lead at Microsoft Gulf, explained: “The main technology for construction is IoT. By using sensors, we can capture everything in the construction environment, which is [traditionally] very chaotic.

“If you think about the safety perspective too, which is top of the mind for the construction sector, objective cognition – which is part of AI – is a key technology. If you train the system to detect anomalies in the construction environment, then it can become very easy to detect problems, and create alarms with objective cognition.

“By using cameras, we can detect any object on the construction site. Fire or smoke, for example, would be very easy to detect. If you approach this from the safety perspective, IoT is very interesting for construction companies,” Ozyucel added.

Contractors – and even clients – cannot be blamed for believing that smart city technologies are more like science fiction than practical and beneficial tools. The traditionalism of the global construction industry is well-known. But it would be remiss of Dubai’s contractors not to take strides to overcome this inertia. 

As the home of the Middle East’s smart city movement, Dubai is the ideal hub for construction companies to experiment with technologies that could increase their efficiency and significantly cut costs.

Going smart is the commonsense thing to do, but are you falling behind?  


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Construction Week - Issue 761
Mar 21, 2020