Power of drones will build smart cities

Rabih Bou Rashid, managing director at Falcon Eye Drones, says cities will grow fast and drones will help to make it happen

Rabih Bou Rashid
Rabih Bou Rashid

In the last few decades, GCC governments invested in the development of infrastructure to recalibrate their economies and in the past five years created greater non-oil sources of income. The vision of economic growth in these countries developed a multicultural platform that made an impact on their population demographics while attracting foreign knowledge, labor and investments.

With one of the highest rates of population growth in the world, the GCC population has grown more than ten times during the last 50 years. The local population reached 52.6 million at the end of 2015 and is projected to see a 12 million increase by 2030 reaching a total of 64.9 million people that reside in the region. The biggest spike in population growth is expected to take place in the KSA followed by the UAE, Oman, and Kuwait.

Nominal GDP across GCC countries, which was US$341.6bn in 2000, is expected to increase to over US$2trn in 2020. 

While the economic forecast is very positive, it requires a lot of work when it comes to creating a firm infrastructure that can accommodate the estimated population increase.

GCC governments put plans and visions towards building smarter cities that can accommodate a growing demand in power, food and water supplies. 

Growing demand in real estate and city infrastructure units will need to be accommodated via improved transport lines. Such measures are already being taken care of through the establishment of Etihad Rail project that is designed to manage the development, construction, and operation of the UAE's national freight and passenger railway network. 

According to the Etihad Rail website the railway network will be built in phases to link the principal centers of population and industry of the UAE, as well as to form a vital part of the planned GCC railway network linking the six countries of the GCC: The Kingdom of Bahrain, The State of Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and UAE.

To promote sustainable growth in the Gulf region it is important that governments introduce energy efficiency measures, invest in clean fuel and renewable energy supplies, improve water efficiency, invest in new water desalination capacity and identify agriculturally viable land areas. 

All these measures can be achieved through a holistic approach to projected developments where smart cities play an instrumental role, especially their technological aspect.

An exponential growth of smart cities is key and to ensure this growth is not hemorrhaged or slowed down by challenging oil prices, Gulf already invests in such future technologies as AI, IoT, blockchain, and drones.

Drone technology is developing rapidly and is making a lot of impact on the economy. Construction, mapping, and utilities are some of the few important areas where drones proved to be instrumental. 

Comparing to traditional asset inspection methods, drones can bring efficiency, health and safety improvements, speed and cost savings. These improvements can add a significant value to such sectors as utilities, infrastructure and ports to name a few. 

In the mapping industry drones shave months off projects and save millions of Dirhams. Data is being collected so fast that big projects can’t afford not to use drone solutions.

The construction industry is one of the biggest benefactors of drone technologies, where their use in the lifecycle of a project has proven, over and over, to be the best way forward. Drones can be incorporated in every stage of construction, pre, during and post, while delivering valuable information to project owners and contractors that was not available only a few years ago.

One of the greatest examples of drone applications would be the mapping project of the Jebel Jais Flight, the world's longest zip line that was announced by Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority in February 2018. The world’s longest zip line, measuring at 2.83 km, is located at the mountainous region of Jebel Jais. Home to the tallest mountain in the UAE, the peak is 1,934m with an abundance of hiking and mountain biking trails. When the project was initially proposed, there was a huge question of how the surveyor can acquire topography data of the area?

The zip line corridor span from the highest point of approximately 1,600m to the lower point of 850m. The deepest of the gully is around 750m, making the ground surveying methodology nearly impossible. 

With the emergence of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and structure from motion (SfM) photogrammetry, drone survey becomes the ideal way to obtain the geographical data especially in the inaccessible parts of the mountain. In this particulate case drone technology allowed Jabel Jais Flight mapping to be delivered in a record time that would otherwise take up to 4-5 times longer if ground surveying was conducted, which was virtually impossible in this project.

According to the McKinsey & Company report “Managing big projects: The lessons of experience”, an average big construction project costs 80 per cent more than budgeted and runs 20 months behind the schedule. 

With the GCC construction pipeline reported standing at over USD2tr in 2017 by Deloitte's “GCC's construction industry outlook”, time is not a luxury Gulf countries can afford. 

Drone technology will continue playing an instrumental role in the evolution of the region and as infrastructure development requirements evolve the demand for creative and efficient technological solutions will continue growing.

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