In a nutshell, a smart city is a framework, primarily composed of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), that develops, deploys, and promotes sustainable development practices to address growing urbanization challenges. But which smart solutions are being introduced on The Red Sea Project and how does this tie in with protecting nature and the environment. We asked Simon Timmis, Smart Services Technical Director at The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC).
Saudi Projects:What exactly do smart city initiatives include at TRSDC?
Simon Timmis: The main initiatives are there to deal with guests and to make the city more efficient. It’s a significant area, the size of Belgium in landmass, but when you put all the developments, micro-developments, together for the islands, it’s virtually a city in its own right. So we have city technology and city smart services. Then we have services for the environment, such as environmental monitoring and observation, because that’s extremely important for us.
It’s all about making the guest journey seamless and efficient, and feeling like they’ve got a concierge with them when they don’t necessarily have to have a physical concierge. The entire development’s mobility is run by us and contained by us. So to get from one resort to another for a meal, or maybe staying one night in one resort and then moving to another, that requires us to move them around. And the mobility, whether it be boat, car, seaplane, all of that is controlled by us through a mobility service, basically an Uber of the Red Sea. That linked together with the hotels and all of the different systems, are there to create a frictionless guest experience. So very much like a guest would book an Uber from a hotel, it’s a similar experience. Unlike Dubai, London or wherever it may be, though, we are running everything within the destination – we are in control of everything.
It’s all about making the guest journey seamless and efficient, and feeling like they’ve got a concierge with them
So, for example, we know, because we are monitoring heavily, where all the flora and fauna are, and particularly where the sea creatures are, the turtles and the dolphins. If we so choose, we can take that data, for instance, to assess the turtle population and put that together with information for the captain of a boat to inform the guests traveling from one island to another, “by the way there is a pod of dolphins over there” or “turtles are coming just beneath us.” All of this data is used and shared to enhance the guest experience.
Regarding the city, we need to bring it into complete efficiency and harmony because we are totally off-grid. At night we will be on battery power and are in fact constructing the world’s largest battery storage facility at the site.
So for that reason, we have to be extremely energy efficient; electricity-efficient, as in cooling and heating efficiency, but also water-efficient because we are undertaking desalination and although we’re doing it very, very carefully, and considerately, it’s still a process that needs to be efficient because you do not want to produce water when you don’t need to.
So city technology is there to ensure efficiency for the guests, so it’s running as clean as possible, as efficiently as possible, and so that we can effectively run the city carefully with the environment in mind.
Also, we’re looking to attain Dark Sky Certification, which means our lighting is kept to an extreme minimum so that we can actually see the night sky here. And for that we have to control lighting and the potential areas for light pollution; we have to get data on the lighting of the huge areas involved. For that, we have to use technology to ensure that we keep in compliance with the certification and remain certified, which is important to both the board and to us.
The third aspect is environmental monitoring. We have committed to the world, and not just to Saudi Arabia or the Gulf, that we will not interfere with nature while we’re constructing, but rather look to improve the area significantly – improve the corals and other key habitats, improve the flora and fauna, increasing the net conservation benefit of the site. So for that, we have to record, and we are recording now, through a range of sensors across the marine environment and the land environment to prove it to the world.
So services share data with other services and they share it through a big platform we call the Smart Destination platform
SP:It’s a huge undertaking, what are the specific challenges – is it the sheer scale?
Simon:It’s not necessarily scale, because although it’s a very large area, the development plots are relatively small – we’re developing less than 1% of the total area. The challenge for us, and the reason we did a lot of design work at the very beginning before we went to market for tenders, is because it’s heavily interconnected. So services share data with other services and they share it through a big platform we call the Smart Destination platform. This is a singular data platform with artificial intelligence and machine learning.
The challenge is not the individual services. The challenge is in the data mesh, the data web, which puts all that together so we can be as efficient as possible.
Going back to seeing a pod of dolphins or a number of turtles or a school of fish move across the water -we need to record that for environmental reasons, but at the same time give the same information to another service, which will add benefit; it will give meaning and be an interesting guest experience, and this is important to us.
Equally, we have metered all of the apartments that our employees live in, and we do that to keep a balance concerning the utilities that we have. At the same time, it will give a granular measurement on the environmental impact of, for instance, a member of staff running the oven in their apartment for a certain amount of time. So, we are approaching this very differently; even for our employees this is a personal commitment to live and breath sustainability.
We’re looking to attain Dark Sky Certification, which means our lighting is kept to an extreme minimum
SP:On a personal level, you’ve been involved in some of the world’s major events, from Football World Cups to the Olympics and onto the planning for major transportation systems – how does TRSDC stack up against these? What excites you about this project?
Simon: I think each project gives different challenges. The ones I’ve been involved in recently, the Dubai Expo, the World Cup in Qatar and the Olympics, all are time-bound projects.
So your technological cutting-edge is a little less, mainly because the likes of FIFA and the IOC like to do it the way that they’ve always done it before. The technology challenges are therefore a bit different. The projects are still quite leading edge because FIFA and the IOC like to show something new, and of course, the hosting countries like to show something innovative too. The challenge on those projects is purely time, so you sometimes pull away on technology advances because you haven’t got the confidence it can be delivered in time, and time is crucial. The Qatar World Cup was awarded a lot earlier than other World Cups, so time for us was a bit of an anomaly, almost a hindrance, because we were designing a lot earlier than you would normally. And the problem with that is that you have to go back to them a couple of years later because things have gone out of date. With those projects, it’s all about time, technology, and advancement, with a connection.
With the Red Sea, it’s definitely all about time – our ambition and the drive of our leadership will not allow us to go slow. At the same time, we have a little more flexibility in some aspects, and the way we’ve done things in this programme revolves around intense design and working together with the stakeholders before it goes to tender, so all parties have signed off on the approach before we move.
SP:The world is moving fast and things will change, so how flexible is TRSDC when it comes to growth and upgrading?
Simon: What we’ve done for flexibility’s sake is create framework contracts in the procurement packages to the bidders to underline that things do move fast. It’s a jigsaw puzzle and we’re moving it at speed together. We’ve done as much as we can to keep it flexible and to keep it moving.
The way we’ve done things in this programme revolves around intense design and working together with the stakeholders before it goes to tender, so all parties are all signed on the approach as we move
SP: Finally, in the future do you think smart cities and destinations will be determined by how well they connect with each other to form an ecosystem?
Simon: Our situation is interesting because as The Red Sea Development Company, we launched with The Red Sea Project but acquired additional responsibilities, first in AMAALA, and now with a growing portfolio of other projects along the west coast. We spent a lot of time on design work for The Red Sea Project, and I expect this experience will mean those other projects are going to be easier to do – they are also going to be data interconnected and share the similar experiences. Consequently, we will end up having a technology spine running the length of the west coast, and we are working in tandem with NEOM and KAUST, and the other projects and key stakeholders to learn and share information. As we all grow, we are going to be an interconnected smart city, and at the same time, our experiences will blend into other smart cities to improve their performance and reliability.