Government-focused technology dominates GITEX 2017

Heba Hashem

Monday 30 October 2017

From firefighting drones to flying taxis and cashless payment solutions, this year’s GITEX provided a fascinating glimpse into the future of technology, including Lenovo’s new ThinkPad Retro.

Now in its 37th edition, GITEX Technology Week 2017 showcased multiple specialist technologies, including blockchain, artificial intelligence, drones and 3D printing. Held at the Dubai World Trade Centre from 8–12 October, the five-day event opened with 4,100 companies from 70 countries.

Live demonstrations of super-slim future display systems and immersive virtual reality experiences drew the crowd. But what really stood out was the emphasis on government-focused solutions. Digi Robotics, for instance, revealed groundbreaking innovations such as the world’s first autonomous taxi, a robotic petrol station, a self-driving truck for use in seaports, and drones to put out fires in high-rise buildings.

Digi Robotics petrol station

The Digi Robotics petrol station

The firefighting drones were launched through a collaboration between Digi Robotics and Dubai Civil Defence, and can be flown with a pilot, autonomously or by manoeuvring them from a control room.

“The role of robotics is increasingly being simplified, but at the same time growing across industries,” said Bilal Al Hattab, CEO of Digi Robotics. “Our solutions focus not just on heavy industries, but on a range of sectors including education, transportation, media and military.”

Aiming high

Meanwhile, the world’s first automated aerial taxi was publicly shown for the first time. Introduced by Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA) and built by German company Volocopter, the self-flying machine is planned to be integrated in Dubai’s transportation system.

By deploying engineless technology, Khaled Al Awadhi, director of automatic collection systems at the RTA, said it would bring about “increased safety standards, environmentally friendly solutions and cost efficiencies at scale”.

Another highlight was GET’s vehicle and road monitoring solution. The system features an intelligent lightbar that mounts on top of a vehicle, with embedded automatic plate-number recognition and surveillance cameras.

The technology can be used in multiple ways. It can identify flagged vehicles, stream videos to the command and control centre, and record footage in 360 degrees, thereby reinforcing public safety and empowering traffic departments with real-time field intelligence.

GET also launched its new Heidi printer at GITEX. While the UAE-based company already provides printing solutions for the government for documents such as driver licences and national ID cards, Heidi can be used for commercial purposes.

“We weren’t engaged in the commercial sector until we released the Heidi printer, which caters to the needs of large organisations operating in healthcare, hospitality and other industries,” said Tamer Ali, regional sales manager for GET Africa. “Heidi CP55 also supports smart card printing, so we can add a chip to the card and use it for access control.”

Everyday solutions

A common objective among many GITEX exhibitors is to make everyday life easier with technology. Klip, a new digital wallet that will be rolled out in the UAE in early 2018, aims to do just that.

Already accredited by the UAE Central Bank, the app is a product of Emirates Digital Wallet (EDW), a platform established by 16 of the UAE’s largest local banks, including Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, Dubai Islamic Bank, Mashreq Bank and RAKBANK.

A virtual model of how Klip digital wallet will work

A virtual model of how Klip digital wallet will work

“Klip will help to replace physical cash in the pockets of UAE residents,” said Salman Ahmed, head of bank relationships and market development at EDW. “You just have to download the app for free and visit the closest branch of any of the banks and they will activate it.

“You can then add the amount of money you want and use it everywhere, from restaurants and supermarkets to online shops and small grocery stores. Retailers only need to have the merchant app to receive payments.”

The e-wallet is expected to transform payment transactions in the country and pave the way for cashless spending, as well as the transfer and storage of money for all UAE residents, including those who do not currently have bank accounts.

“We really like fintech companies for many reasons. They have a strong sense of purpose and of being able to answer why they exist,” said Petr Klimes, global head of marketing and co-head of digital at Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB), during a finance conference on the third day of GITEX.

On the interplay between financial institutions and fintech firms, Klimes said partnerships were embedded in ADIB’s DNA, and fintech collaborations have helped them optimise processes.

“For us, digital technology is not something that will force us to change who we are, but will help us create a better version of ourselves,” Klimes said. “When we looked at potential fintech partnerships, we looked around the world to who could help us in that mission. We found Fidor Bank, and they ran an interesting model that was compatible with what we wanted to do, so we decided to work with them.”

ADIB formalised the partnership with Fidor in October 2016 with the aim of launching the region’s first community-based digital bank, a platform designed to fit the lifestyle of millennial consumers.

“Islamic banks historically haven’t been able to deliver some of the authentic products that are in the foundation of Islamic banking,” Klimes said. “Fintech and digital technology are helping us do that.”

25 years of out-of-this-world innovation for Lenovo

Lenovo celebrated the 25th anniversary of ThinkPad at the event. In the past 25 years, the ThinkPad has been at the forefront of innovation, with such feats as being the first laptop on-board a Space Shuttle flight in 1993, to powering Steven Hawking’s computer technology.

The ThinkPad fountain and cube signs at GITEX 2017

The ThinkPad fountain and cube signs at GITEX 2017

To celebrate the quarter-century of innovation, the Lenovo ThinkPad Retro was unveiled at GITEX. This laptop was built using input from 13,000 survey respondents on the specifications of the product.

More than 600 customers, channel partners and media joined Lenovo in the GITEX ConneXions lounge, with activities like the ThinkPad quiz, product showcases, giveaways and meetings adding up to the entertainment.

The ThinkPad fountain installed outside the Novotel Hotel and 16 cube signs popping up in different areas also made it a visually rich experience.

Lenovo’s message was clear: to continue providing robust, innovative devices for businesses to help keep them at the top of their game.

Talking digital

Meanwhile, Greg Cross, chief business officer at Soul Machines, creator of the world’s first emotionally responsive and interactive digital humans, said that with the level of disruption coming into banking and financial services, reengineering the customer experience would be critical.

“One of the things you’re able to do with digital employees is get to tasks that you can’t afford to do at the moment,” he told conference participants. The company has already teamed up with four large organisations, most recently Air New Zealand.

Technology investments are certainly gaining appeal. According to IDC, third-platform technologies, which encompass social, mobile, cloud and big data, will drive nearly 75 per cent of IT spending by 2019 – growing at twice the rate of the total IT market.

Other innovations including artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality and next-generation security will only fuel this spending, IDC added.