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Saudi Neom: The first cognitive city in the world is coming

In 2017, Crown Prince His Royal Highness Mohammed bin Salman announced what might be the world’s most ambitious project: a new city called NEOM, in Saudi Arabia’s northwest deserts.

The US$500bn futuristic megacity is being built from scratch on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea as a place where entrepreneurship will chart the course for this New Future. It will house more than one million residents across towns of different sizes, ports and enterprise zones, the first of which announced in early 2021, dubbed The Line. Nevertheless, NEOM will also include research centres, sports and entertainment venues, and tourist destinations. The city is expected to create 380,000 jobs, adding SR180bn (US$48bn) to the country’s gross GDP by 2030.

Running on artificial intelligence, it was described by its head of technology, Joseph Bradley, as “the first cognitive city”.

The Line will reshape how we live

In January 2021, the Saudi Crown Prince and Chairman of NEOM revealed a 170km belt of hyper-connected future communities built around nature without cars and roads. He described it as an answer to some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity nowadays, such as legacy infrastructure, pollution, traffic, and human congestion.

His Royal Highness said: “Throughout history, cities were built to protect their citizens. After the Industrial Revolution, cities prioritized machines, cars and factories over people. In cities that are viewed as the world’s most advanced, people spend years of their lives commuting. By 2050, commute durations will double. By 2050, one billion people will have to relocate due to rising CO2 emissions and sea levels. 90% of people breathe polluted air. Why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development? Why should seven million people die every year because of pollution? Why should we lose one million people every year due to traffic accidents? And why should we accept wasting years of our lives commuting?”

“Therefore, we need to transform the concept of a conventional city into that of a futuristic one,” His Royal Highness continued: “Today, as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of NEOM, I present to you THE LINE. A city of a million residents with a length of 170km that preserves 95% of nature within NEOM, with zero cars, zero streets and zero carbon emissions.”

“The cognitive city will be run through its own operating system dubbed Neos,” said Bradley to ZDNet in an interview. Neos would gather and process data from internet-of-thing (IoT) devices and the residents’ unique IDs and several other devices across the city, acting as its core. Through that system, the city can protect residents in several ways, such as alerting medical emergencies.

According to Bradley, Neos would also manage shuttles for commuters to The Line without waiting or booking because the city’s operating system already knows the flight numbers, times of arrival and gates. It will know which hotel visitors booked and for whom by combining facial recognition. Simultaneously, Neos will use the data to ensure that a shuttle meets passengers as soon they enter the city.

Addressing privacy concerns, Bradley told ZDNet that each resident decides how much data they want to share with the operating system. According to Neo’s website, 90% of the available data will be to enhance infrastructure capabilities, something far beyond the 1% typically utilized in existing smart cities.

Another unique feature of The Line is it is the first urban development designed around people, not roads. 

“Walkability will define life on The Line – all essential daily services, such as schools, medical clinics, leisure facilities, as well as green spaces, will be within a five-minute walk,” was the city’s statement at the time. The place, powered by 100% clean energy, would feature ultra-high-speed transit and autonomous mobility solutions that make travel easier. It promises future residents that no journey will be longer than 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, Saudi Telecom Company (STC) announced in early April a partnership with Dizmo to launch the smart home platform NEOM. According to STC, this technology offers an unprecedented level of interoperability across different domains of city life. It will bring health and wellness extension to the NEOM smart home via integration with healthy lifestyle devices, such as Fitbit, while also interoperating with the healthcare system for a collaborative relationship with doctors.

STC said the partnership is aligned with the company’s strategy in digital empowerment and providing innovative digital solutions to make NEOM a new model of sustainability. They recently signed an agreement to operate a fifth generation communications network (5G), in addition to establishing an innovation centre for applications in virtual reality, augmented reality, smart home development, autonomous vehicles, and the interaction between residents and digital infrastructure.

NEOM to host MENA’s largest fish farm

On April 6, NEOM and Tabuk Fish Company signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to build the largest fish farm in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

In a press statement, the company announced that the MoU includes developing a fish farm to promote the aquaculture industry in the region, both within artificial lakes and natural waters. It also aims to establish a solid aquaculture infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, following Vision 2030, to diversify the country’s economy and sources of income.

According to the statement, the hatchery will operate with a capacity of 70 million fingerlings, aiming to boost the production of local fish species in the Red Sea. It would contribute to achieving the KSA’s goal of producing 600,000 tons of fish products by 2030, placing Saudi Arabia at the forefront of the pioneering countries in sustainable aquaculture.

Dr Ali Al-Sheikhi, the CEO of the National Fisheries Development Program and Director General of the General Department of Fisheries at the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, said that the MoU would be a turning point to economic growth and food security.

Nadhmi Al-Nasr, CEO of NEOM, said: “We are pleased to work with Tabuk Fish Company to introduce new technologies and approaches to aquaculture to improve all aspects of farming and sustainability. The capacity and innovative nature of the project, combined with top-notch technologies, will help position Saudi Arabia at the forefront of sustainable marine aquaculture.”

Nasser A. Al-Sharif, Chairman of Tabuk Fish Company, welcomed the collaboration, saying: “Our collaboration with NEOM will initially focus on creating a state-of-the-art fish hatchery to generate local jobs. It will also attract top technology companies to NEOM, allowing Tabuk Fish Company to establish a variety of new business opportunities and positively impact the NEOM region and beyond.”

Aquaculture is currently the world’s fastest-growing food sector and accounts for over 50% of the total global seafood supply. With seafood consumption in the KSA projected to grow 7.4% annually, sustainable aquaculture growth is key to meeting this demand and easing pressure on wild fish stocks, currently under stress in the region and worldwide due to overfishing.

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