Imagine a world where an app uses the weather forecast to plan your journey to work. Where your office does not just use energy, but generates it. Where your electric car is part of the city’s power grid, and where your house knows what time you will be home.

Our infrastructure is not built for us. It is functional in the same way that any car will get you from A to B. But it is not personal. As we would select a car based on our individual preferences, so too will our city infrastructure be moulded to our needs.

Personalised cities

By 2050, more than two-thirds of us will be living in urban areas. By 2030, more than $50 trillion will need to be invested in city infrastructure globally to keep pace with GDP and population growth. The Middle East is not immune: populations are expanding rapidly and the resulting challenge for energy, transport, housing and the environment must be met with intelligent solutions.

Increasingly, our cities are producing data; we are surrounded by millions of sensors, generating massive volumes of information. Harnessing this information to assess our environment and reacting in real time is the next generation of digitalised infrastructure. Our future cities will run on operating systems. Connected and integrated transportation, power grids, buildings and peripheral technologies such as e-cars will all contribute data to cloud-based systems for analysis, increasingly personalising our infrastructure.

We are taking lessons from industry to enhance city infrastructures. In industrial applications, we are already using MindSphere, our open, cloud-based operating system for the Internet of Things (IoT), to connect assets and devices. It analyses data, improving efficiency, cost-savings and time to market, creating competitive advantage. This IoT technology has great potential outside industry. Siemens will use MindSphere as part of our Premier Partnership for Intelligent Infrastructure & Operations for Expo 2020 Dubai, digitalising the 200-hectare site by optimising energy and building management.

Future cities will run on operating  systems

Future cities will run on operating systems

Future cities will run on operating systems

Growing cities bring obvious transportation infrastructure challenges. The resulting congestion is not just inconvenient, it is expensive. The EU estimates that urban congestion leads to about E100bn ($106.9bn) a year in direct and indirect costs.

The digital integration of transport is crucial to solving today’s mobility challenges with multi-modal planning. A modern city, with mature transport infrastructure including metros, trams, taxis, buses, cars, Uber-style services and many kilometres of cycle lanes, has a combination of options available to residents and tourists, but finding the fastest or most cost-effective is not always simple.

Imagine that an app could plan your entire journey for you, from door-to-door, taking into account your personal preferences. As you travel, it uses real-time data, suggesting the metro instead of a taxi if traffic starts to build up, or altering your journey to avoid a walk in the heat, as well as booking and paying for your tickets. We already have the technology to make this a reality.

Smart mobility

We can improve it further. Sharing data both inside and outside the operator’s organisation can create an intelligent traffic system that uses changing data on road conditions to alter signalling for improved flow. It can share data with drivers for better route-finding or help find vacant parking spaces – an activity that can account for 40 per cent of inner-city traffic. We are already developing technology that allows cars to talk to each other, passing along messages regarding road conditions, to interact with smart road signs and alert drivers of issues before they appear in view.

Digitalisation and the Internet of Things are redefining the role buildings play in our lives

Meanwhile, buildings consume more energy than industry or mobility – accounting for some 41 per cent of worldwide energy consumption – and are responsible for one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. Compensating for the CO2 emissions of a city such as London would require a forest the size of 470,000 football pitches. It is time our buildings played a bigger role in mitigating the environmental impact of our lifestyles.

Digitalisation and the IoT are redefining the role buildings play in our lives. Intelligent buildings use data, dynamically managing their systems to suit you and the environment. Changing levels of daylight can reposition window blinds and alter lighting, and cooling systems can be automatically adjusted to deal with changing capacity. Advanced building management systems can integrate the control system with the building’s schedule, ensuring unused rooms are on the lowest energy setting and adjusting the environment just before you arrive.

We know from installations of our own building management technologies that energy use in buildings can be reduced by 40 per cent. The significance of this in the Middle East is huge. We are proud that we have been responsible for equipping some of the most efficient and highly digitalised buildings in the region, including Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Dubai’s 3D-printed Office of the Future.

Along with projects such as our own Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design platinum-certified regional headquarters in Abu Dhabi and the region’s most energy-efficient tram system in Doha, we have proved it is possible to build highly efficient, environmentally sustainable, digitalised city infrastructure in the Middle East.

The IoT is driving our infrastructure towards a holistic, resilient, data-driven web, personalised to us while mitigating environmental impact. There is some way to go, but we have the technology and we are already working on it.

Dietmar Siersdorfer is CEO of Siemens in the Middle East and UAE