Ambitious Greenfield Projects Hope to Accelerate Smart Cities

By Alex Chatha

Industry Trends

It is not a matter of “if” but “when” the smart cities market will truly take off. The constraints of technology, the lack of tangible benefits from successful integration of siloed services across urban metropolis’, and the burden of aging infrastructure in place are just a few of the headwinds that are stalling this market in the developed world. In the past few weeks there have been 2 major greenfield smart cities projects that made the headlines. Bill Gates has announced that he has purchased 25,000 acres in Arizona for the construction of a greenfield smart city. Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al-Saud also made a huge splash by announcing the world’s most ambitious project, NEOM, backed by a commitment of $500 Billion US from the Kingdom and its partners. If successful, these projects will create demand for innovation in smart cities technology and provide additional proof-of-concepts that can help springboard the entire market on a global level.

Bill Gates Pledges $80 Million to Build Smart City Community Project

Belmont Partners, one of Gates investment firms, has committed $80 million towards building a smart community outside of Phoenix, Arizona on a 24,800 acre plot of virgin land. The city of Belmont will be home to roughly 182,000 citizens which will be housed in 80,000 residences. Portions of the city will be devoted to offices, schools, commercial, and retail space according to the partners. The futuristic community of Belmont will be a model for smarter communities: high-speed internet will be embedded into the built environment; an advanced transportation management system will accommodate self-driving vehicles, as well as, networked and intelligent traffic lights designed to minimize traffic congestion; the community will also be home to smarter manufacturing technologies. Proximity to Google’s autonomous vehicle testing site Waymo in Chandler, Arizona will provide the opportunity for a partnership in developing the communities advanced transportation network. Belmont Partners said in a statement that the city "will transform a raw, blank slate into a purpose-built edge city built around a flexible infrastructure model."

Saudi Arabia Hopes to Transform into an Innovation Nation with NEOM

His Royal Highness Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al-Saud, Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister, chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs and chairman of the Public Investment Fund (PIF), has announced a new initiative to establish a massive new urban ecosystem along the north west Red Sea coast of the Kingdom. This new “mecca” of innovation will span over 26,500 square kilometers, presenting the opportunity for dreamers to build a global hub that bridges Asia, Africa and Europe and brings together the world’s greatest innovative minds. Construction has already begun, with the first phase expected to be completed in 2025.

NEOM will be a net zero zone and seeks to maximize the natural advantages the area has for wind and solar energy. The project is already being supported by SoftBank’s Vision Fund and Blackstone Partners. This expansive and revolutionary project will be led by former ALCOA and Siemens CEO, Klaus Kleinfield, and has already secured a partnership from robotics experts Boston Dynamics. Masayoshi Son, the CEO of Softbank, calls it a fantastic opportunity, and cites the fact that applying solar technology to only 3% of the Kingdom’s land could provide power for as much as 50% of the world’s needs. Marc Raibert of Boston Dynamics believes that NEOM can provide the demand to pull robotics innovation forward as it will provide a testbed for smart cities robotics implementation with its plans for all repetitive tasks to be handled by robots.

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Looking to emulate the success of Dubai, NEOM will be developed independent of the Kingdom’s existing governmental framework. NEOM will provide a best in class business environment to allow investors and innovators the opportunity to build tomorrow’s economic models, while also promoting collaboration to achieve sustainable economic growth. For more information on this revolutionary project, watch the video here.

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