Following Israel’s smart solar trees, the Dubai Municipality is rolling out a series of “community tech hubs” based on 3D printed palm trees that collect solar power. The stations are also where users can recharge their phones, tablets and laptops, enjoy free WiFi, and check in on local weather and news.
The Smart Palm initiative aligns with a UAE Cabinet decision to make 2015 the “Year of Innovation” and with Dubai’s overarching ambition to become the regional leader in digital Smart City technologies.
The oil-rich state has resources to make innovation reality, but why aren’t simpler versions of this basic tech going up as standard civic amenities everywhere?
These six-meter-tall solar-powered towers shaped like palm trees are the latest city-sponsored convenience for tourists and beachgoers. Dubai Municipality installed the first Smart Palm at Zabeel Park in April. The second, which added a feature to give weather updates, sprouted in May at Jumeirah Beach near the Burj Al Arab Hotel. The Dubai World Trade Center received the third unit in June, and a fourth goes up this month at an as-yet unspecified location.
Viktor Nelepa, founder of D Idea Media, the company that designs and builds the structures, told Khaleej Times, “The fourth unit will be another milestone as it will be a unique structure created using 3D printing technology and it will be the biggest such outdoor structure [in the world].”
The newest Palm is made of fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) instead of steel, making it lighter and more durable than earlier prototypes. It has added ultraviolet and humidity protection to reduce maintenance. All Smart Palms run on its own mono crystal solar panels, which provide up to 21 per cent efficiency and generate enough power for daytime functionality and nighttime lighting. The city plans to add them to all public beaches in Al Mamzar, Jumeirah and Umm Suqeim.
Nelepa said that in the first four months of operation the Smart Palms generated a total of 2.5 MW of green electricity. More than 2,100 devices were charged and – on the silly side – about 2,000 selfies were taken using cameras attached to the towers. The project grew from collaboration between Dubai Municipality, Smart Palm creators D Idea Media, du, Sun Tab Solar Energy and Promo Tech Gulf Industry.
Alya Harmoudi, Director, Environment Department, Dubai Municipality, said each unit can support 50 simultaneous over a radius of 53 meters. She added that the stations can display updates on beach events and serve as a public announcement system. They also show beach rules, guidelines, tips, and sea conditions.
The project took just ten months from conception to delivering the finished product.
Smart Palm is designed in part to serve as functional public art that complements Dubai’s iconic architecture and scenic beaches. As such, it would be a positive addition to all Middle East airports and touristic sites, a necessary replacement for the ubiquitous telephone booths of the past.
If the makers would strip it down to its utilitarian components, production costs would reduce, enabling purchase by (or for) urban communities where people lack reliable internet connectivity or experience intermittent power.