Dubai Silicon Oasis: Smart Community

Dubai Silicon Oasis has established itself as a centre for smart city technology and the ICT industry, as well a becoming a vital component in Dubai’s smart city plans

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Dubai Silicon Oasis: Smart Community Eng Muammar Alkatheeri, Executive Vice President - Engineering and Smart City, Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  March 27, 2017

Established in 2004, Dubai Silicon Oasis was created as a free trade zone, for ICT and technology-focused companies, with commercial and residential zones, with the aim of becoming one of the first integrated communities in the region. Today, Dubai Silicon Oasis is home to some 2,000 companies, three quarters of which are IT and technology companies, and nearly 65,000 people live within the park. The population is swelled by an additional 10,000 people who work there each day.

Since its inception, Dubai Silicon Oasis has been a pioneer in the smart city sector, launching many projects in different areas of smart technology, for both business and residents, and becoming an early adopter and provider of technology services such as data centre hosting and cloud services. Entrepreneurship has also been an area for focus for DSOA, with the establishment of incubators, accelerators, and other facilities for startups.

Last year,DSOA expanded its smart goals, with the launch of the 2021 Strategy, with four strategic aims for DSO’s future, expanding its focus on smart city, becoming an advanced technology hub, creating a desirable society and providing an environment for the happiest people. In February this year, DSOA laid the foundation stone for its latest development, the 150,000 square metre Silicon Park, which will build on DSOAs status as a leader in smart living.

Eng. Muammar Alkatheeri, Executive Vice President - Engineering and Smart City for Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority, said that DSO is well established as a centre of excellence for smart city, with a strong strategic partnership with Smart Dubai and a track record of acting as a test bed for smart city projects and proof-of-concept deployments, and connecting Dubai government entities with technology providers. The aim for Dubai Silicon Oasis is not just to adopt new technologies or transplant expertise, but to create the entire ecosystem around new technologies.

“We have started very early with Smart Dubai, even before the establishment of SDO, with the Executive Committee — our focus is always not to create another smart district, it is to work with an ecosystem. We have focused on three main pillars in that ecosystem, of smart education, smart factory and smart thinking,” Alkatheeri explained.

In education, DSOA works with the schools that are located in Dubai Silicon Oasis, hosting events such as a Maker Day, Innovation Week, and connecting schools with technology companies, to inspire students and incorporate technology into their daily learning. New technologies such as 3D printing, a growing focus for DSOA, are introduced to students through education programs.

At the higher education level, DSOA and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), which has its Dubai campus in Silicon Oasis, have co-operated to create a Smart City Diploma. for local government personnel and private sector students; and RIT and DSOA have also introduced a Smart City Master’s Degree, with DSOA sponsoring 13 students for the program.

The ‘smart factory’ is more of a focus on making things happen, Alkatheeri explained, and DSO has established a number of initiatives to drive new businesses in Dubai Silicon Oasis. One such project is Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Centre (DTEC), the largest entrepreneurship centre in the Middle East, with a full program for startup incubation. Entrepreneurs have access to workshop programs, introductions to technology companies, office space and business support.

Last year, DSOA along with GE, Etisalat and Emirates Airline launched an accelerator initiative, called Intelak, which will encourage business ideas for the travel, tourism and aviation sector. A smart city accelerator program, also involving partners, is also being developed.

DTEC in particular has been a big success, Alkatheeri said. “We are really astonished by the growth that is happening in DTEC. The number of companies that have set up is crossing 700, within a very short time, almost 18 months since we started DTEC. We have seen a lot of success stories that are happening there.”

In the ‘Think Smart’ area, DSOA has opened an Ignition Lab with Intel, an open lab where students, entrepreneurs and government can get hands-on access to the latest technology, proof-of-concepts and use case research, as well as connect with technology companies and experts.

Another first is the establishment of a 5G lab with du, which is exploring the technology and standards for 5G communications networks, along with university researchers and other telecoms companies. The work done in the 5G lab will ensure that the Middle East has a say in developing telecoms standards.

Dubai Silicon Oasis has always been more than an incubator or academic venue however, and it has a firmly established goal to become a living smart city. DSO has hosted a number of pilot projects and test deployments, including smart street lighting, waste management, irrigation control, digital signage and street information, and so on. The aim is to create, test, refine and deploy solutions for smart city, which can then benefit Dubai Silicon Oasis and the rest of Dubai.

“We don’t want to place ourselves as just technology users, taking off-the-shelf products and installing it,” Alkatheeri said. “We are not entertaining vendors for smart city products, what we do is, we work on POCs, we work on live technology, tested in this environment, with all the challenges that it has whether it is climate, whether it is social or regulation or cultural; all these are looked at, in partnership with different companies and local government departments.

“If we look at waste management systems, we have implemented this in DSO, we started with 90 waste bins, now there are 210; that has a proven 65% reduction in operational cost,” he added. “You have better carbon footprint, better efficiency, and also less trucks driving around the city, and now discussions are happening [about the project] on a city level.”

DSOA has the advantage of being flexible and quick to make decisions, Alkatheeri added, meaning that it has become an ideal environment for pilot projects, and the surrounding ecosystem of private sector and government has driven many suggestions for new launches. Dubai Silicon Oasis also has an advisory board, which includes the private sector, to help assess and select which solutions might be suitable for deployment.

The latest project for Dubai Silicon Oasis, is Silicon Park, a new mixed use development, which is due for completion in 2018. Silicon Park, which has cost Dh1.3 billion to date, is intended to be a comprehensive smart development, including many of the elements specified in the ITU’s smart sustainable city index. Silicon Park will include smart street features like charging docks and bus shelters, smart lighting, smart building controls and green buildings, renewable energy sources, autonomous vehicles and electric car infrastructure, while data collected from sensors from across the development will be monitored and analysed in a control centre.

One of the most important elements of Dubai Silicon Oasis is the drive for innovation across all of the departments, and companies, and also from the community that lives there. The Dubai Silicon Oasis community provides feedback and insight into adoption of smart solutions. Smart home has been part of DSO since 2010, with smart-enabled villas, and to encourage adoption, DSOA has launched a smart home competition. A community portal allows residents to voice concerns and suggest improvement, and there is good deal of positive feedback from residents for the different initiatives.

“I think what is really touching the community, is we have community spirit in DSO, we have projects that touch on people’s daily life, even if it is not related to technology,” Alkatheeri added.

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