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Autor: Dr. Markus Heidak (Partner Middle East & Asia #FORTSCHRITT)
- 07.10.2019 -

Dubai is working fast on becoming one of the most important examples for a Smart City role model. We believe that Dubai is on the right track because living and working here already feels like being part of the future. The implementation of the Smart City plan started several years ago and is now in full progress. The term “Smart City” is used in many different ways. Generally, it summarizes the economic, technological and social concepts for a livable and eco-friendly city. Smart cities should be more efficient, sustainable and progressive than conventional cities.

Due to our Middle East activities, many people keep asking us how it is to live and work in Dubai. Therefore, we want to address some of the smart city aspects which we experience in our daily lives. In many cases, the conversation leads towards transparent citizens and dealing with authorities, such as the police and administrative formalities.

However, unknown to many at home, Dubai can be considered as a „city of the future“ and therefore as a potential mirror for our cities at home in Germany. This is particularly true in regard to the topics „digitization“ and the transition into a Smart City. Generally, Smart Cities use innovative concepts and technologies to address problems arising from demographic change, population growth, environmental pollution, climate change and the scarcity of resources. Through the continuous interaction of the citizens with the surrounding technologies, human aspects and technology merge to form a unified infrastructure. The latest information and communication technologies are used in a way that preserves resources, improves the quality of life for all residents and increases the competitiveness of the city and the local economy.

In the following article, we will discuss Dubai's plan to become one of the leading smart cities in the world. The implementation of the Smart City plan started several years ago and is now in full progress. Therefore, we want to address some of the smart city aspects which we experience in our daily lives.

Once upon a time …

Dubai is known for its ability to implement good ideas rapidly and systematically. In 2015, Dubai has launched the “Dubai Plan 2021”. The “Dubai Plan” is a strategic roadmap for the city to accomplish its digital transformation ambitions by 2021. The roadmap defines its vision in three key areas: customer satisfaction, economic growth and resource and infrastructure resilience.

During the last 3,5 years, Dubai has transformed itself into a model smart city by rethinking how governmental services are delivered to its citizens. Up to know they launched over 100 smart initiatives and more than 1000 smart services by two dozen government departments and private sector partners. The Smart Dubai strategy is intended to strengthen cooperation between public and private entities to achieve six key Smart Goals (see figure 1).


Figure 1: The 6 Smart City Goals. 

Ubiquitous internet connectivity via high-speed fiber optics and high-speed Wi-Fi networks is one part of Dubai's strategy to become a leading digital city. Thousands of Wi-Fi hotspots provide free Internet access for the millions of devices across the city. To respond to privacy and security concerns, the Dubai government has issued several guidelines and laws to protect citizens' personal privacy and to protect end-user devices from cyber-attacks and malfunctions.

A good example is the new UAE Social Media Law. Someone who is caught not complying with these rules may face imprisonment and horrendously high fines ranging from 150.000 AED to 1.500.000 AED. There are 6 rules that each individual must follow when dealing with social media in the UAE (see figure 2).


Figure 2: The 6 most important rules when dealing with social media in the UAE.

Experience the Future now

A good example of the implementation of Dubai’s Smart City Initiative is the digitization of the police work. In March 2017, the Dubai Police presented their first Police Robot at a security fair. The Robots can recognize faces, facial expressions, body language, gestures and communicates via a voice recognition program in Arabic and English. At breast-height, a touchscreen has been installed to enable citizens and visitors to submit incidents electronically or to retrieve information. Officers in the control room can contact the person in front of the Robot directly via video link or voice connection and they get real-time images. By 2020, millions of visitors will arrive in Dubai for the World Exhibition. It is planned, that the robots ensure safety and order on the EXPO 2020 campus and in the local shopping malls. By 2030, machines are expected to do a quarter of the police work.

The testing of new devices, applications and their further development is part of Dubai's smart city strategy. For example, drone’s equipment with radar and high-resolution cameras are currently used to detect traffic offenses up to two kilometers away and some Officers are testing Google Data Glasses to support the daily police work. The data glasses integrate map data and real-time information from cameras and other sensors.

Look who´s coming here

The latest acquisition of law enforcement officials is an autonomous patrol car. The patrol robot has a multitude of sensors such as high-resolution optical cameras whose software recognizes faces and license plates, thermal imaging cameras, laser detectors for distance and speed measurement as well as ultrasonic sensors and motion detectors that can track pedestrians.

If the vehicle encounters insurmountable obstacles or requires additional data, it can mount a drone from an extendable drawer at the rear. The sensors unfold their full effect through the integration of the data and the live transmission to the recently upgraded police control center, which is now equipped for the evaluation of biometric data and the use of artificial intelligence. Ultimately, this means that the data captured by the robots can be compared in real-time with databases containing facial features of people wanted for tracing, or license plates of stolen cars or those with open parking tickets.

Dubai cooperates with companies such as Google, for example, to improve speech recognition, or with IBM Watson in the field of artificial intelligence. The Dubai authorities have their own department that develops tailor-made software and apps. There is a nearly endless list of Apps, developed to make living in Dubai more comfortable and easy. On the official Dubai mobile Service Website you can download over 30 Apps covering almost every area of public life (see figure 3 and 4). This includes calling an ambulance with a direct GPS Location point, finding the nearest Taxi, do your payments, or report a crime.

There are:

  • Governmental apps
  • Healthcare apps
  • Security & Justice apps
  • Education, Media & Social Development apps
  • Travel, Environment & Infrastructure apps
  • Business & Consumer apps
  • Tourism and Events apps



Figure 3: In the UAE, the Ministry of the Interior has its own app. (Quelle: Apple-App Store)


For example, the Ministry of the Interior has its own app designed for businesses and individuals (Figure 3). The application provides services that cover three main sectors of the Ministry of Interior of United Arab Emirates:

  • Traffic and Licensing
    You can use the App to apply, renew or update details about your vehicle licensing, driver licensing, traffic fines (pay via the app) and plate services.
  • Civil Defense
    The App is designed for institutions licensing, trading companies licensing, drawings Approvals, Prevention and Safety Procedures for Vehicles and Awareness and Training Services.
  • Police Headquarters
    You can check your criminal status, call the Police, use home security and schedule a prisoner visit.


Additionally to the Smart Services, the application offers many intelligent functions, such as the nearest location of the service center as well as a ticketing service to pre-book your appointments before you go to the service centers. It also provides news and information about the United Arab Emirates Department of the Interior. Another very useful app in daily life is the award-winning Road and Traffic Authority (RTA) App (Figure 4). Here is an overview of the main services and functions of the app:

  • The app is available in Arabic, English, Hindi and Russian.
  • It has live chat features for feedback or technical issues.
  • Overview about your profile along with links to key emergency numbers, government services and weather conditions for safe driving.
  • You can pay for parking and remember your parking location.
  • Inquiry and payment of "offenses" via a payment portal.
  • You can recharge your public transport card (NoL) and display your past transactions and travel history.
  • You can recharge your toll credit.
  • You can order a taxi using the app booking service.
  • There is a practical test that familiarizes drivers with the Dubai RTA Theory Test.
  • There is a green dots calculator leading to time, carbon dioxide and cost savings by using public transport.



Figure 4: Another very useful app in daily life is the award-winning Road and Traffic Authority (RTA) App. (Quelle: Apple-App Store)

Be Informed!

An important aspect of a Smart City is to know as much as possible about what’s going on in town. To achieve this, countless video cameras were installed across the city. Even surveillance cameras from private homes are linked to the police system if they are registered for a security program. For example, residents who go on holiday can apply for video surveillance of their homes via the police website. If you travel to Dubai as a tourist, you immediately get in touch with the digitalized city. In both Emirates, a face scan is just as obligatory when entering the country as it is when applying for your documents (ID-Card, Driving license). In combination with face- and license plate recognition as well as with public transport surveillance (e.g. Dubai Metro), the authorities are able to create complete motion profiles of their citizens and visitors.

Saving precious time

Speaking back home about Dubai, most people associate the city only with ambitious construction projects, superlatives and the unlimited possibilities for shopping. However, this is of course only a small part of what really happens because good ideas and positive proposals for improvement are often implemented promptly and consistently in Dubai. This applies as described, especially to the aspects of digital transformation. However, people back home who are skeptical about digital transformation and don't know how to deal with their own digital identity are well-advised to get to the bottom of these issues quickly because worldwide cities are getting smart and the high-speed train called “Digitalization” has accelerated to full speed.

Dubai is an ideal example to experience the sheer complexity and the various effects of digitization on our day-to-day urban lifestyle. The greatest asset we experience through our Smart City is the saving of valuable time. For example, our business partners, friends, and relatives are using the Smart City Apps as often as we do, and we all benefit from the simplified and digitized administrative formalities by avoiding the hassle of visiting a public service department.

After all, “having more time” is one of the most valuable things in our society today. If a Smart City can help us achieve that, they are most welcome.

Dr. Markus Oliver Heidak

Manager der Geschäftsmodellabteilung bei #FORTSCHRITT


Dr. Markus Oliver Heidak leitet die Geschäftsmodellabteilung der Think-Tank-Beratungsgesellschaft #FORTSCHRITT, sowie die Außenstelle in den Vereinigten Arabischen Emiraten. Seine langjährigen Tätigkeiten in den VAE u.a. in den Wirtschaftssektoren Rohstoffe, Finanzen, Umwelt und Mobilität machen ihn zum Fachmann in den Bereichen Geschäftsfeldentwicklung, nachhaltige Geschäftsmodelle, Expansion & Markteintritt sowie in der operativen Umsetzung von Geschäften vor Ort. Außerdem ist er als Dozent an verschiedenen deutschen Hochschulen in den Schwerpunktthemen nachhaltige Geschäftsstrategien, Geschäftsmodellentwicklung sowie agile Arbeitswelt und agiles Projektmanagement tätig.


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