Expo 2020 Dubai: Oasis of innovation

Expo 2020 Dubai: Oasis of innovation

Visit Expo 2020 to witness innovation in action at a site destined to leave a sustainable footprint in the sand

An oasis of innovation, Expo 2020 Dubai, is destined to leave a sustainable footprint in the desert sand in the form of the world’s most digitally connected smart community. 

As the curtain rises on Expo 2020, the glistening dome atop the Al Wasl Plaza, with its 360-degree projection system, looks set to rival the Eiffel Tower – built for the 1889 World Expo in Paris – as one of the landmarks to emerge from the 182-day exposition that is poised to showcase international innovation at its best.

“One of the greatest shows on Earth and a model for the future of connected communities,” is how Mohammed Alhashmi, Chief Technology Officer, Expo 2020 Dubai, describes this oasis of innovation that awaits the millions of visitors expected to pass through the carbon fibre entry portals to the site.

“We are going to have plenty of innovative surprises,” said Alhashmi. “During the next six months visitors will come together under the theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ and will have the opportunity to experience a multitude of innovations, from robots powered by artificial intelligence to insights into the UAE’s Hope Probe Mission to Mars.”

Expo 2020 is being held in the Middle East for the first time. While it was originally planned to open in October 2020, Alhashmi points out that opening one year later than planned due to the pandemic, has allowed his team to create the most digitally connected event in Expo history. 

“Expo 2020 can be enjoyed by everyone around the world thanks to our Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) experiences,” he said speaking from the UAE Pavilion, built in the shape of a flying falcon, the national bird of the UAE.

“We are going to make sure we reach out to every individual around the world to experience everything Expo 2020 has to offer whether they are on site or at home. With the use of AR or VR they will be able to see every building and enjoy every experience,” said Alhashmi who feels this on-line taster could prompt more physical visits. 

“We are setting standards for the future. We are not only aiming for 25 million physical visits but many more virtual visitations as well,” he said.


Scale that defies belief

During the past five decades, Dubai has become synonymous with breaking records from the world’s tallest building in the shape of the Burj Khalifa to the highest infinity pool and largest fountain. So it comes as no surprise that the sheer scale of Expo 2020 – which covers an area the size of 613 football pitches – and its promise of cutting-edge innovation and technology from 192 countries looks set to continue this trend.

For 170 years, World Expos have provided a platform to showcase the greatest innovations that have shaped the world we live in today, from Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, one of the first mechanical computers in 1862, to the first live television broadcast made at the New York World Fair in 1939. So what can we expect from this 182-day exposition, which runs from 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022? 

Described as the beating heart of Expo 2020, Al Wasl Plaza’s dome stands at the heart of the Expo site and serves as the largest 360-degree projection surface in the world. In a similar fashion to the Olympic village, Expo 2020 will evolve into District 2020, a smart, sustainable city that will provide a curated innovation-driven business ecosystem that will bring together global minds and embrace technology and digital innovation.

The gleaming dome structure looks set to define the first World Expo to be held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. As one of three sub-themes, sustainability lies at the heart of Expo 2020, along with the theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’, aimed at inspiring people by showcasing the best examples of collaboration, innovation and cooperation.


Innovation highlights making the headlines

Alhashmi pointed out some of the innovation highlights that are destined to shape future travel, both on the ground and in air. “We are very proud of our space programme, especially the UAE’s Hope Probe Mission to Mars. We will be showcasing this in Alif – The Mobility Pavilion,” he said.

To mark the Hope Probe reaching Mars’s orbit in February 2021, Expo 2020 Dubai used its cutting-edge projection and display technology to illuminate Al Wasl Dome in a rich red hue characteristic of the “Red Planet” to share its sense of pride at being part of such an ambitious and innovative nation. 

“We also have so much more that we are keeping as a surprise and which will be revealed during the Expo itself.” Expo 2020 serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration, and reflects a belief in the power of human collaboration, ingenuity and cooperation – the same values that are at the heart of the Emirates Mars Mission.

Each of the 192 participating nations will each have their own pavilion in which to showcase their innovations, achievements and aspirations for the future.

Innovation highlights which will be making the headlines include:

  • Concrete that generates solar power
  • Devices that extract water from air
  • World’s largest elevating platform
  • Cutting-edge advances in motoring
  • Cone-shaped vertical farming
  • Laser that scans asteroid surfaces
  • Most sensitive radio telescope ever made
  • Robots that perform the music of Beethoven


Terra – The Sustainability Pavilion

Looking rather like a spaceship that has just landed is Terra – The Sustainability Pavilion, which is a pioneer in its adoption of sustainable practices. The pavilion includes a 130-square-metre steel canopy, with 4,912 solar panels fitted across the canopy and a series of ‘Energy Trees’ in the pavilion’s grounds capable of generating four gigawatts of electricity per year.

Terra operates in the belief that every generation is responsible for safeguarding the world for the future. It will promote awareness of resource management, climate change and green growth, natural ecosystems and biodiversity, and the importance of sustainable cities.

“Terra is designed to be net-zero for carbon emissions. We have full control over the use of energy, recycling of water and generation of power for the district.

“We aspire to deliver one of the most sustainable World Expos ever. It may seem like an ambitious goal, but sustainability is ingrained in everything we’ve been doing – from buildings and construction to establishing a lasting legacy long after Expo is over.”

Terra isn’t the only eye-catching building – the Expo site is a showcase for some of the world’s most inspiring architecture from buildings that resemble flocks of birds or crystal caves to those that move, tilt and change shape. Visitors are invited to step into structures that can produce oxygen, that generate electricity and even sustain a microclimate. Other spaces recreate nature indoors and can transport you to cities of the future.


A dream that became a reality

“The whole nation became so excited when we won the bid in 2013 for Expo 2020. We knew we were creating history to bring the biggest event in the world to the UAE,” said Alhashmi. “The whole nation worked towards achieving this dream, and is engaged in delivering this unique event. We are setting new standards for others to follow and helping shape the future of humanity.

“Expo 2020 Dubai is aligned with the innovation strategy of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who has taught us nothing is impossible provided we have the willpower and passion to believe.

“But let's not forget that Expo 2020 will transform into District 2020 after we close our doors. This will be a smart community of the future that will not only host many high- tech companies, but will also act as an innovation hub. I believe this is one of the main reasons people will remember Expo.”


District 2020

District 2020 has been designed to support the future of working and living, and to facilitate connection and collaboration. It will be home to an inclusive and diverse community seeking a more balanced way of life – a place that prioritises well-being, inspires new ideas, facilitates growth and enables human potential.

“Following the six months of the World Expo, we will re-purpose 80% of Expo’s buildings, including the 120-plus buildings we have built to attain LEED Gold and Platinum certification, into an integrated mixed-use community that will continue to attract businesses and people to work, live, visit and enjoy,” said Alhashmi.

“We are building something so extraordinary that others will adopt it after the mega-event to carry forward and realise Expo’s founding vision of becoming an ecosystem that can connect, create and innovate.

“In District 2020 we have an infrastructure built for the future. 80% of Expo’s built environment is smart and will be re-used for District 2020. The majority of buildings are connected through our building management system and computerised facility management system. Everything from water to energy is controlled. Dubai Government has a plan for District 2020 to become a model for smart AI-driven cities of the future. And that's what we are planning for.”


Most digitally-connected Expo in history

Expo 2020 has been heralded as being the most connected Expo in history as Alhashmi is proud to acknowledge. “We are one of the most digitally connected sites on Earth right now. We have brought the best technologies from around the world into a single site.

“We have a gigantic hidden infrastructure that we have built below the Expo site itself, including more than 500 kilometres of fibre cable, more than 2,500 main switches and over 9,000 WiFi routers. As the first commercial installation of 5G in the Middle East, we will be able to connect 300,000 people at the same time to high-speed WiFi with very low latency.”

More than 130 buildings and several hundred thousand sensors across the 4.38-square-kilometre site will be interconnected via a central Internet of Things (IoT) platform.

At the core of this platform is MindSphere, the open, cloud-based IoT operating system from Siemens. Data from sensors, gateways, systems and building management applications is collected in MindSphere, where it can be analysed and visualised by applications such as Navigator, the cloud-based energy and asset management platform from Siemens. The Siemens system helps Expo 2020 Dubai achieve its goal of an optimal balance of energy efficiency with visitor safety, security and comfort.

To analyse the data in MindSphere, Siemens has worked closely with the organisers to develop a smart city app that will be used for the first time at the mega-event. The app can supply detailed environmental data such as air quality and weather conditions, as well as monitor irrigation systems across the site. But that’s just the beginning, as once Expo 2020 closes its doors, the app can be expanded to accommodate a range of other possible use cases and has the potential to become an all-purpose tool for the future smart city.


Expo 2020 Dubai mobile app

Visitors can make the most of every minute of their visit to Expo 2020 Dubai with the mobile app developed by Alhashmi and his team. “It will help you prepare for your visit to Expo 2020. And by the time you arrive, it will be packed with cutting-edge features to make your experience even more memorable,” he said.

The app allows visitors to:

  • Purchase and manage of tickets
  • Create a personal schedule of events, attractions and parades to see
  • Choose from 200+ dining options, and find themed culinary events
  • Manage their Smart Queue reservations and buy Expo 2020 tickets
  • Use the interactive, GPS-enabled map with step-by-step directions
  • Find useful info from Expo’s chatbot and Customer Contact Centre
  • Keep a record of their journeys in a Digital Passport
  • Test their knowledge of the participating countries and the UN Sustainability Goals


Power of partnerships

In order to bring Expo 2020 to the world stage, Alhashmi has relied on a wide ecosystem of trusted technology partners that include:

  • Accenture (Digital Services Partner)
  • Cisco (Digital Network Partner)
  • Etisalat (Telecommunications Services Partner)
  • SAP (Innovative Enterprise Software Partner)
  • Siemens (Infrastructure Digitalisation Partner)
  • Terminus (Official Robotics Partner)

“To deliver an exceptional Expo, we had to partner with the best. We have great technology partners who all did a brilliant job. Everything that they've done somehow touches everything the visitor will experience. 

“For example, one of our partners created an app informing visitors how to get to specific points in the shortest amount of time – essential when the site is twice the size of Monaco. This is something so simple, yet so effective,” said Alhashmi.

When asked how long you would need to look round Expo 2020, Alhashmi said it could take 30 days. “At least 30 days,” he smiled. “But more importantly, come and see for yourself. Join the making of a new world and see where the future is taking us.”


Al Wasl Plaza – the beating heart of Expo 2020 

Al Wasl Plaza’s towering dome looks set to be the iconic structure of Expo 2020 Dubai. This translucent dome will act as an immersive 360-degree projection surface, allowing projections to be visible for visitors both inside and outside it.

The moulded steel dome is 130 metres wide, 67.5 metres tall and weighs more than 500 tonnes. It is topped by domed trellis that was inspired by the shape of the Expo logo. 

The trellis design was inspired by an ancient gold ring found in the Saruq Al Hadid archaeological site. The name Al Wasl means ‘the connection’ in Arabic – it is also the old name of Dubai, and hence, Al Wasl Plaza has been designed to serve as the core of the entire Expo 2020 site.

Al Wasl Plaza will connect the three Thematic Districts – Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability – as well as the other main concourses, including the Expo 2020 Metro station link and the UAE Pavilion.

The iconic dome has been designed by US-based firm Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture. Taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it is one of the largest single structures that will remain after the World Expo ends and will take centre stage in the legacy community of District 2020.