The Rise in Cognitive Cities, Buildings and Infrastructure as the Next Generation of Urban Management

Dr. Oliver Elbracht
Dr. Oliver Elbracht
September 8, 2023
7 minutes
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Table of contents

Urbanization is on the rise. More than half of the world’s population now live in urban areas and this is expected to increase to circa 70% by 2050, according to the United Nations.  Around the globe, and particularly in the Middle East, there are many plans underway to develop entirely new urban living areas, to accommodate the population rise and expatriate influx.  Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai were recently ranked as the smartest cities in the MENA region.  With many new infrastructure plans underway, this ranking is expected to climb even higher globally.  

These trends set a pressing need to build and expand services, infrastructure, city management, and controls within these increasingly populated areas. With these numbers expected only to grow, strategic planning is of utmost importance to ensure long-term efficiency, safety, and quality of life. As the technological landscape continues to develop at a rapid pace, and digitization now touches nearly every industry, a key component of current and future planning will be the integration of smart and cognitive solutions.


Bringing Smart Cities to Life

Before continuing, it is useful to set some parameters around what we mean when we say ‘smart’. The word itself is central to so much innovation, and as a prefix, it has migrated away from being attributed to personal devices (such as a smart watch or smart phone), to increasingly becoming a feature of many target systems and services that will be provided by governments and private companies, forming the interface between users, customers and service providers with the end goal being to create more efficient and optimized services.  A ‘smart’ system will be able to operate in its own silo, typically without the need for human intervention. It will be able to track, recognize and produce data or responses according to its purpose. 

But where are we today? Across the globe, we have been edging towards a more integrated digitized experience for some time now. With new smart features being introduced that form the initial buildings blocks of fully integrated smart cities in the future. The Middle East has already long been a proponent of innovation and leveraging the best of disruptive technology. In particular, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are setting a new benchmark when it comes to smart technology for customers and residents. Smart systems are becoming more common across many government and private buildings and processes and have been for several years now. They provide responsive interfaces for users and consumers and relieve much of the manual efforts, as well as costs to services, and provide significant reductions on environmental impacts. Dubai has over 100 Smart initiatives and over 1,000 smart services - many as a result of collaboration and cooperation between government and private companies. This number is expected to grow significantly, in line with the number of exciting new infrastructure products as part of the agenda to become ‘the happiest city on earth’. This vision is underpinned by the objective of leveraging technological advancements to optimize resources, integrate services seamlessly, and protect people and their information. 

Siemens Advanta recently worked with Dubai to complete an Internet of Things (IoT) strategy for the city to help identify, prioritize and define smart initiatives, which included an assessment of central computing platform options to create an integrated citywide command center. Implementation of these initiatives is expected to lead to substantial benefits, including operational cost savings (up to 30%), improvement in overall resident and customer satisfaction (up to 20%), reduction in emergency response times (up to 80%), and reduction in non-revenue water use (up to 35%).
This is an excellent case study for demonstrating that buildings and environments that adapt to human needs, create safer and more harmonized living and contribute to a more sustainable future. Overall, folding smarter and sensory technologies into urban planning, and architectural and interior design will not only increase competitiveness but ensure that present and future generations’ economic, social, and environmental needs are also met.

The Future of Cognitive Cities

Smart security systems, smart access, and smart metering (to name a few) are now becoming part of common jargon. More recently, and in line with the accelerated growth of technology, the term ‘cognitive’ has also entered the lexicon.

What’s the difference between smart and cognitive systems? While a smart system is used to measure, track, communicate, and collaborate with its users, a cognitive system independently intuits and anticipates. 

To put it another, simpler way: imagine a meeting that is held in a conference room at the same time every week. The heating system for this room is accessible and controllable from an individual mobile device. Given the number of attendees within the meeting room the temperature of the room can increase, so the users are able to adjust, using their devices. That is a smart system. But now imagine that that same system would recognize both the pattern of the meeting cadence and the increase in temperature and then adjust itself at the same time the following week to accommodate the extra body heat. That is a cognitive system.

Both systems are fundamentally intelligent but as this example shows, while a smart system is able to be digitally controlled, a cognitive system goes one step further and is able to adjust and self-regulate according to user and customer needs. Through prediction and enablement, cognitive systems offer the most sophisticated, human-centric solutions that exist today.

The concept of cognitive is still considered emerging, but it is a trend that we can expect to see growing in the very near future and ultimately, replacing its ‘smart’ predecessor. With the use of self-learning artificial intelligence (AI), a cognitive infrastructure will be able to provide fully integrated solutions that move away from siloed systems, and communicate and learn across a network of enabled services. It is the ultimate vision for a fluid end-to-end process that benefits both the user/customer base and the provider through seamless experiences, while enabling long-term cost savings and significant reductions in environmental impacts for the provider. Simultaneously, its sophistication will only continue to grow with machine learning technology at its core.

But getting it right is key: from the very first point of data, a cognitive system needs to be able to accurately register and understand the user requirements. We have seen minor challenges with this in the recent past, with many of the machine learning technologies that make up cognitive solutions. Given that many of them are still at a comparatively nascent stage, the rate of pace at which they are developing and improving is extremely fast. 

Smart and cognitive infrastructure is not just about increasing the end user’s human comfort level and ease of effort. From an economical point of view, they can deliver long-term cost savings by reducing the wastage of services and energy. There is a wider imperative and obligation to ensure that we are investing in longer-term sustainable solutions that will help reverse the negative impact on the environment. As the topic of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) rises on the agenda for both government and private companies alike, both are looking to technologies to enable their core objectives.  The valuable data collected by these systems can enable city and building management to make informed and strategic adjustments. This covers all three layers of a city and building’s infrastructure:

  1. The sub-layer: includes water, gas and electricity delivery and waste disposal
  2. The surface level: engages directly with users, residents and customers, such as transportation, retail, in-person services and recreational activities
  3. The vertical layer: includes energy consumption

Applying a digital layer across all three of these provides a more detailed insight into gaps and required adjustments than has ever been accessible before.

Paving the Way for Cognitive Transformation

Cognitive systems will provide a competitive advantage across multiple industries, including healthcare, manufacturing, mobility, and buildings. Through customer and user-centric data gathering, these systems can continuously update and amend their operating structures based on customer and user preferences and interactions. Businesses will benefit from ongoing optimizations to their human services, environmental impact, safety & security, utilities, and operational intelligence. Stay ahead of the curve with the limitless potential of cognitive systems.

There is no doubt that technology adds to the desirability and attractiveness of residential properties, communities and services, as well as tourist experiences. From a user and customer perspective, smart and cognitive systems can improve quality, ease of use and safety and security, among many other benefits. Meanwhile, cost reduction, ESG considerations, improved data management, and enhanced governance all stand as pivotal advantages for service providers, thereby futureproofing their business and ensuring continued growth through investments in smart technology.

In the imminent future, the most prosperous communities will have technology at their core, equipped to facilitate growth and development. All businesses, both public and private, should start to consider how their ways of operating will tie in with a larger, more cognitive-based infrastructure that will underpin future ways of living.  

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Our contributors

Meet the experts behind the article.
Dr. Oliver Elbracht
Dr. Oliver Elbracht
Head of Siemens Advanta Middle East
Elizabeth Harkness
Elizabeth Harkness
Regional Strategy & Operations Leader Middle East