The future of smart cities in the Middle East

The future of smart cities in the Middle East

Eugeniya Marina, RecFaces Business Development Director for the MENA Region, looks at the role of facial recognition technology in shaping urban development.

In the last 10 years, urbanism has made a giant leap from the spheres of housing, community services and transport to the digital heights of artificial intelligence (AI). The widespread use of AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) in city management technologies is making spaces ‘userfriendly’ and showing us two opposing trends. On the one hand, convenience is attracting more and more people to the megapolis. On the other hand, it is technology that provides comfort and security to hundreds of thousands of people in the agglomeration. Facial recognition technologies play a significant role in this.

Smart Cities at the peak of popularity

Most of the sectors of Information Technology (IT) associated with the smart city concept are experiencing active growth. For example, the ReportOcean agency estimates that the Middle East and Africa peripheral computing market will be worth US$1.46 billion in 2023, growing at a CAGR of 33%. And the market for digital twins will reach US$61.45 billion by 2027 with a CAGR of 34.48%, according to a report by Mordor Intelligence.

The scale of implementation of artificial intelligence technologies is showing rapid growth. Only 10-15 years ago, the main application areas of digital technologies in megacities were city-wide security systems and the management of the technical infrastructure of buildings. Currently, smart cities are emerging – like Neom, Abu Dhabi. The digital twin of the entire emirate of Abu Dhabi was announced at GITEX Technology Week.

“A smart city should be comfortable not only for citizens but also for those who build and maintain it. This is the key to its long lifetime value and troublefree functioning.”

Why a city should be smart

According to UN forecasts, by 2050 more than half of the world’s population will live in cities. However, let’s be realistic: the higher the population density, the higher the crime rate, the likelihood of the spread of infectious diseases, man-made disasters and other threats. This means that measures are needed to neutralise these factors. But this is not the only reason – and far from the main one! – to build smart cities.

The practice of implementing smart city systems in different regions, including the Middle East, shows that this approach to agglomeration management has a number of advantages.

Economy: Control over the expenditure of resources, optimal distribution of traffic flows, and automation of most routine processes bring serious bonuses to the city budget. The money saved can be spent on the implementation of ambitious projects that will make the city even more attractive.

Safety: Video surveillance systems and video analytics contribute to the detection of crimes, as well as the ability to notify emergency response services about various incidents – from a street fight to a fire.

Quality control: It is not public utility employees who can monitor street lighting systems, the cleanliness of sidewalks and glazing, and the condition of flower beds and park areas, but AI-based video analytics systems. It is faster, more reliable and completely eliminates the human factor.

All of the above not only makes the city a comfortable ecosystem for people, but also contributes to the growth of investment and tourist attractiveness of the city, which means attracting capital.

Face recognition – the connection between a city and a person.

One of the most important tasks of a smart city within the framework of creating a comfortable urban environment is interaction with a person. Face recognition systems solve this problem. In fact, it is a ‘bridge’ between the city and hundreds of thousands of citizens. By reading the biometric profile in a fraction of a second, facial recognition systems provide the smart city with information vital for the proper functioning of the city’s infrastructure.

Detection of crowds: The formation of a crowd may indicate that it is necessary to quickly introduce additional resources: launch another escalator in the subway or an additional flight of transport. On the other hand, it requires the increased attention of law enforcement officers.

Admission to buildings: Facial recognition systems successfully replace access cards and fingerprint systems at the entrance of enterprises, institutions, stadiums and theatres, schools and universities. They are reliable and, thanks to the high identification speed, help to avoid congestion at the beginning and end of the working day.

Check-in for flights, ticket sales, and public services: A robot or kiosk equipped with a facial recognition system can verify the client’s image with documents and automatically issue travel documents without the participation of employees of the transport company. This possibility has already been implemented at Emirates Airline. It can also be implemented for the registration of some documents (for example, insurance), the provision of public services, or the sale of personalised tickets to events.

Ensuring the security of shopping centres: The systems track visitors from the ‘stop list’, register suspicious behaviour in the store and warn the security services in time. Facial recognition helps reduce theft damage by 50-90%.

Tracking violators: The facial recognition system tracks the movement of a certain person, including in a crowd, and helps to detain them ‘in hot pursuit’.

The future belongs to easy-to-use technologies. A smart city should be comfortable not only for citizens but also for those who build and maintain it. This is the key to its long lifetime value and trouble-free functioning.

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