Lens on innovation

Lens on innovation

Ryad Soobhany, Associate Professor of Mathematical and Computer Sciences, Heriot-Watt University Dubai, unravels the use of camera technology in Middle East urban planning to enhance security.

In the ever-changing landscape of the Middle East, where rapid urbanisation meets technological advancement, the integration of camera technology is reshaping the foundations of urban planning. As the region welcomes the digital age through ambitious smart city projects, the widespread use of surveillance cameras presents unparalleled possibilities alongside intricate challenges. Let’s explore the complex interplay of camera technology in Middle East urban planning, untangling the elements that intertwine innovation, privacy concerns, and the prospective urban resilience in this dynamic and evolving region.

Smart city leader

At the forefront of embracing camera technology to tackle urban challenges, the Middle East is leading in adopting smart city initiatives. MarkNtel Advisors reports the global video surveillance market at US$50.5 billion in 2023, projected to grow at a CAGR of about 12.2% from 2024 to 2029, with the Middle East contributing significantly to this growth. This substantial growth, fueled by ambitious smart city projects, underscores the region’s commitment to establishing interconnected, efficient and secure urban environments. One notable example is the ‘Oyoon’ initiative by Dubai Police, which employs AI and data analytics to prevent crimes, respond swiftly to emergencies, and alleviate traffic-related fatalities and congestion. With an extensive network of over 300,000 surveillance cameras, Dubai ensures enhanced security, efficient traffic management and comprehensive urban monitoring. Oyoon even enables digital tracking of criminals citywide by uploading a mugshot into a database. Another example is Beeah Tandeef, a key waste management player who introduced the AI City Vision. This innovative solution employs AI 360-degree cameras on waste collection vehicles to elevate urban cleanliness standards in the UAE. Look to the future In Saudi Arabia, the NEOM project, a futuristic smart city in development, epitomises the Kingdom’s commitment to technological innovation and sustainability. NEOM integrates cutting edge technologies, prominently featuring advanced surveillance systems to enhance various facets of urban life. The city’s vision encompasses efficient transportation, streamlined energy management and overall improved urban governance. This commitment aligns with the Kingdom’s substantial investments in smart city initiatives, highlighting its recognition of technology’s pivotal role in shaping the future of urban living. The project underscores Saudi Arabia’s dedication to creating a model smart city that embraces the latest surveillance, transportation and energy infrastructure advancements, positioning the nation at the forefront of global urban innovation. The integration of these technologies in NEOM reflects a strategic approach to building a city that meets the demands of the present and anticipates and adapts to the evolving needs of future urban environments.

Best practice examples

While integrating camera technology in urban planning offers undeniable advantages, it raises concerns about privacy, data security and potential misuse. Striking the right balance is crucial to ensure that the benefits of surveillance do not come at the cost of individual freedoms. One primary benefit is the enhancement of public safety. Surveillance cameras deter criminal activities, providing real-time monitoring that enables prompt incident response. This is exemplified in the city of Doha, Qatar. Doha has embraced camera technology to bolster public safety. Surveillance cameras are strategically positioned in public spaces and key areas, preventing and reducing criminal activities. These cameras serve as a deterrent and facilitate quicker response to incidents, fostering a safer urban environment. Moreover, camera technology plays a pivotal role in optimising traffic management. Cities like Riyadh in Saudi Arabia are leveraging smart traffic systems powered by cameras to monitor and control traffic flow. Surveillance cameras are strategically placed to identify congestion points and optimise signal timings. This proactive approach alleviates traffic-related challenges and contributes to a more efficient and streamlined transportation network. The integration of artificial intelligence (AI) with cameras enables predictive analysis, allowing for the proactive management of traffic patterns and minimising disruptions.

Essential tools

In addition to security and traffic management, cameras are becoming essential tools in disaster preparedness and response. The Middle East is prone to environmental challenges, including sandstorms and extreme temperatures. Cameras play a crucial role in disaster preparedness and response, particularly in the face of environmental challenges prevalent in the Middle East. Smart cities, like Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates, use cameras with weather monitoring systems to anticipate and respond to environmental threats effectively. This integrated approach enhances the resilience of urban infrastructure and safeguards the well being of residents.

Balancing benefits with privacy

However, the widespread adoption of surveillance cameras raises legitimate concerns about privacy infringement. The omnipresence of cameras in public spaces may inadvertently infringe upon individuals’ right to privacy, sparking a debate on the ethical implications of constant surveillance. Striking a balance between public safety and personal privacy requires robust regulatory frameworks and transparency in the use of surveillance technologies. To address these concerns, cities in the Middle East need to implement comprehensive data protection laws and ethical guidelines for deploying surveillance cameras. Citizens should be informed about the purpose, scope, and duration of data collection, ensuring transparency in using surveillance technologies. Additionally, adopting privacy-enhancing technologies, such as anonymisation and encryption, can mitigate the risks associated with the misuse of surveillance data. Furthermore, clear and transparent governance mechanisms are essential to prevent the abuse of surveillance powers. Establishing independent oversight bodies, involving citizens in decision-making processes and regularly auditing surveillance technologies can ensure accountability and safeguard against potential abuses.

Combatting cyber attacks

Integrating camera technology in Middle East urban planning also necessitates focusing on cybersecurity. With the increased connectivity of smart city infrastructure, the vulnerability to cyber threats becomes a critical concern. Recent incidents of cyberattacks targeting critical infrastructure worldwide highlight the urgency of fortifying the digital defences of smart cities. Robust cybersecurity measures, including regular vulnerability assessments, secure communication protocols and incident response plans, are imperative to ensure the integrity and resilience of camera-based urban surveillance systems.

Looking ahead

As the Middle East positions itself at the forefront of global urban innovation, the trajectory of camera technology in urban planning becomes an integral chapter in the region’s narrative. The journey towards smart, efficient, and secure urban environments is undoubtedly underway, with the strategic use of cameras weaving the intricate tapestry of a future where tradition meets cutting-edge technology.

As the digital transformation unfolds, finding the optimal equilibrium between technological advancement and privacy considerations will be imperative for creating smart cities that thrive on innovation and respect their diverse residents’ inherent rights and liberties. The integration of camera technology is not merely a technological progression; it is a pivotal step towards shaping a future where urban spaces seamlessly blend the heritage of the Middle East with the promises of a technologically enriched tomorrow.