Dubai has a vision of becoming the ‘world’s happiest city’. One of the strategies it has employed to achieve this is the Smart Dubai initiative, which relies on technology solutions to deliver “an efficient, seamless, safe and impactful city experience”.
With funding from the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Space Programme (IPSP), Deimos Space UK has been working with the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in Dubai to automate the production of geospatial information based on satellite data that could be used by Government departments to aid planning and monitor change as part of the Smart Dubai initiative.
Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC)
Dubai has one of the fastest growing economies in the world with a corresponding high rate of urban growth. However, this scale of development is hard to plan, monitor and control. To ensure the city can continue to evolve but that its growth is sustainable, the Government wants Dubai to be a ‘smart city’ that makes the most of technology in many areas.
Government departments in Dubai therefore require support for a variety of issues, such as tracking building works and planning the development of roads and other supporting infrastructure. They want to monitor the effects on the environment, including preservation of green spaces and sensitive areas, and ensure adequate resources, such as water, for a growing population of residents and visitors.
Dubai’s Government departments and authorities already use geographical information systems (based on ESRI ArcGIS) to support their work. Through the SAFIY project, Deimos and MBRSC have built a system to provide them with extra, compatible data on buildings, roads, water and vegetation using high resolution optical Earth Observation (EO) data from two satellites: DubaiSat-2 and Deimos-2.
The new data layers of buildings, road networks, bodies of water and areas of vegetation are updated frequently, in order to detect change and inform planning. The satellite data can be imported – and largely interpreted – automatically, resulting in reduced workloads, lower costs and increased efficiency compared with alternative methods. Algorithms have been developed that can automatically identify various features, such as roundabouts, and distinguish between, for example, paved and unpaved roads. They can also identify any changes, including new features and modifications to existing ones, and present this information in near real-time.
Alongside the development of SAFIY, Oxford University has carried out a feasibility study to investigate 3D modelling using pairs of satellite images. This approach would allow any increase in the heights of buildings to be monitored, which could be particularly useful for a densely populated city like Dubai where urban development can include adding floors to a building as well as, or instead of, increasing its footprint.
IPSP funding and UK Space Agency support has enabled Deimos to build a relationship with MBRSC in Dubai and develop a new approach to providing data for applications in smart cities. Working with MBRSC was valuable as it provided access to very high resolution data from its own satellite, DubaiSat-2, which was one of the two used in the SAFIY project.
During the project the UK Space Agency signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the United Arab Emirates Space Agency which will assist Deimos and other UK companies in pursuing other partnerships of mutual benefit across the United Arab Emirates. Deimos has also identified potential opportunities in Dubai for other UK companies in areas in which it does not specialise, which it will be able to refer on to other IPSP programme participants.
Outcomes & Future
On a practical level, one immediate challenge was to determine what level of detail can be usefully extracted from satellite data to be beneficial in each thematic area in Dubai. The cost, quality and timeliness of this information had to be balanced against data that is gathered in other ways, such as traditional surveying techniques, which can be more accurate but cannot be updated as frequently or processed automatically in the same way as satellite data. In future this balance of data sources may be different when working with other cities and authorities, so the resulting commercial product will be designed to be flexible in this respect.
Within Dubai, Deimos hopes to soon move into a more operational phase of the SAFIY project with some of the Dubai Government departments and provide additional features and data to other departments considering adopting the product. It is also eager to pursue related opportunities elsewhere in UAE, and then look further afield at other similar projects in other cities. To enable this, the product will be designed to work with other satellite datasets, including Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data for cities which are not blessed with as much sunshine as Dubai, and it will also provide data in alternative formats for use with other geospatial databases.