Ricardo Barcena, Co-Founder and CTO at Spotnik discusses how the company is focused on delivering innovative Smart City solutions in the region with its end-to-end expertise in technologies such as enabling digital twin and enterprise metaverse
Tell us about your operations and focus as a company
Spotnik focuses on bringing innovative technologies and specific solutions in the digital transformation domain to the UAE and the region. We are pioneers in the region on urban digital twins developments and use cases.
The two key areas of focus include smart solutions that can be applied to smart cities, government departments, the public sector, and large corporations, in areas of indoor positioning, wayfinding etc, and innovative technologies related to enhancing customer experience. Last year, we developed a platform specifically for sustainability called Spotnik Smart City Studio Pro, which is an information system and a consistent digital twin or a digital replica of the city. Its advanced business intelligence systems include geospatial analytics, and real-time reporting on KPIs related to sustainability that includes mobility, energy consumption, carbon emissions, recycling practices etc. With that platform, we can investigate, analyze, and benchmark different assets, and different areas of the city, or even do simulations for planning. We have solutions and applications also in social robotics. We did some work during the pandemic with social robotics. They are hardware and software assistants primarily and can help you with different tasks. During the pandemic, it was very typical to use these robots, and are useful for interactions with users or people at airports or in hospitals.
Is the sustainability part of Smart City transformation a large focus for you?
In our platform, we are specifically defining data models for ESG, and by that that we mean we are helping the public sector, government entities, and corporations to see a mirror of their status today, and to foresee a simulation of where they could be in 5-10 years ahead in their roadmap of decarbonization and how to achieve net zero targets with our platform. The platform can ingest the data, help view in geospatial visualization within a very realistic environment and allow change of parameters such as weather conditions, demographic conditions, traffic or urban development etc. If for instance there are more parks or more business parks coming up, the impact for instance can be studied and visualized by analyzing the co2 emissions.
This is an entire data visualization model, currently available with which you can keep playing around with the variables and visualize different scenarios for the future, and this can help meet your objectives.
Will it help with decision-making for Businesses?
The solution allows you to experiment with scenarios and so it’s very strategic and can be also utilized from the marketing and strategic marketing point of view. The key idea is for it to be a tool to support decision-making toward ESG objectives on executive dashboards.
Right now, it is focused more on the business side as a tool for the management enabling a very graphical and visual, interactive experience. They can visualize if a strategy is going to be actually executed correctly. It might be used for project management of specific initiatives. It might also be used for even employee engagement in a gamified way. Users can see the impact of their own activities.
In summary, there are a lot of applications possible. This is the first time such a platform is available and it’s homegrown.
Tell us about the strengths of the company in the Smart City solutions domain?
As a company, we are the only ones covering the whole set of competencies in this domain as we have a dedicated team of designers, consultants, data management experts, consultants for business analysis and use cases etc. We have the consultancy and creative expertise to deliver business value from the platform. We have the full end-to-end expertise vis-a-vis other vendors wherein you can subcontract them to give you the technology, but then you need a consulting firm to work on it and they don’t match, or they don’t know how to make a case that suits your objectives.
We focus on the design, usability, user experience, user interfaces for the new technologies, how they are applied to the new systems, and of course, offer consultancy based on understanding the business and accordingly building solutions.
We have built a competence center in range of most advanced labs globally, making use of latest tools from NVIDIA to Cesium with any 3D Game engine and even Web3 features.
How can AI help or impact solution design?
Today, there is a lot of buzz around AI or specifically ChatGPT, and its impact on society. We are concerned about the impact from the user’s point of view. For example, we look at the possible implications on the user experience point of view, if we were to utilize voice commands instead of data inputs as in the present day for changing the user interface of an enterprise system. To make the change, you need to decide not only based on how this is going to improve your efficiency but also on how this will reduce your costs and drive innovation in your company. At the same time, you need to be aware of how this is going to be impacting the transformation of your operating team as they will need to learn new tools, they need to operate the new devices. And that’s where data management or decision modeling, algorithms related to data science, or anything related to AI, machine learning, data science together with data management etc come in and provide the required insights.
How can Businesses use this?
At one level, we offer the analytical, geospatial simulation part in business intelligence dashboards. This provides an enhancement of the business support tools available for departments in the enterprise. At the same time, it is good for reporting, for meeting all the CSD compliance requirements and for finance departments, HR departments etc to understand if they are doing well in progressing towards ESG objectives. At the same time, we can drill down into the operations. If deployed as part of the IoT infrastructure, that provides sensorial and real-time representation of what’s going on in the business, then it can certainly be used for improvement of operations in monitoring and maintenance. It can be used in any context related to command and control because you can visualize much better and foresee what’s going on in terms of incidents and preventive care, etc in your business.
What is the progress you have made in taking this to market?
We are in talks with government departments in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah and special government entities, and are confident since we are the only ones here locally that would be able to support them on their initiatives. Moreover, it provides local authorities with the option to make the optimum use of regional business fabric enabling them to create an impact with UAE-based technology solutions.
In the private sector, we still have the challenge of convincing as we are a smaller and local company that has to compete with the usual suspects which are larger global entities. But we are seeing more and more enquiries coming to us because of our strengths in offering end-to-end capabilities and competence, a value they cannot find in others. We have a good pipeline of projects for the year but these will take some certain time to mature.
Who are the competitors for you on this turf?
I don’t see a direct competitor in terms of what we offer even compared to the usual suspects such as the big MNC vendors offering smart city solutions. For us to be able to take this into market much faster, we need to get associates likely to sell our solution. We would look at collaborating instead of just competing with such entities. Compared to the big names offering smart city solutions, we have a unique proposition they don’t seem to offer. I believe this is a chance for the decision makers or for the middle management across domains to consider what we offer. There is an inclination in this region to engage with the big players of the world rather than looking at local homegrown options such as ours. Having said that, we hope to see more business heading our way.
What government entities would be your target customer segments?
Initially, we were starting obviously with the most direct applications for municipalities, because they have specific departments for planning and geospatial analytics. They need to take decisions on how to plan the urbanization of the cities. There’s also interest in understanding how they are doing in terms of carbon emissions when it comes to transportation. They would like to know about their sustainability mirror, as we call it, and they can correct or change the picture if it looks ugly. We’ve also got calls from tourism and culture departments because with our platform, you can gamify and showcase to people what’s going on in the city, focusing on the beautiful aspects instead of aspects like carbon emissions for instance. The use cases are massive once you have the technology deployed. That’s what I call the current edition of the platform sustainability edition. In the future, we are exploring other geographies as well as the verticalization of the digital twin.
How do you see digital twin as a concept being applied in more verticals as in manufacturing? Also, discuss the Metaverse focus and the impact of generative AI in future.
If you consider the digital twin as a product concept, it started off as a Product Lifecycle Management concept in the manufacturing of cars, planes etc by simulation of the parts to get the product design right before building the prototypes. This was the trigger for the market. The digital twin market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 60% in the next five years to reach $73.5 Billion.
In our case, the digital twins will enable business support for decision-making on dashboards, but also we are opening the door to the enterprise metaverse. Everybody’s talking about the metaverse but not many have a very clear idea about what it is. For the first time, we have clarity on how we can add value to the enterprise metaverse. Both the digital twin and the metaverse enable three-dimensional spaces and immersiveness for the visualization of beautiful space. In a Metaverse it is very important to consider not only the 3d immersiveness, the interaction, the community sharing etc but also the blockchain or web three enablement and integration from a digital transactions point of view. In our case, our platform is also blockchain-enabled. Yes, we have all the components of the enterprise metaverse in our digital twin. We are using the enterprise metaverse to add value to the real world. It’s not at all entertainment or science fiction.
The metaverse on the enterprise side, would evolve to be the next level of information system supporting your processes right now you have such as a CRM or supply chain management system that is basically based on a database, pretty much a table flows, workflows, transactions, etc. In the future, you could just program or manage your processes by both voice commands, visualizing in a 3d environment. That’s what the enterprise metaverse could become. The operational and business support systems will evolve with artificial intelligence copilots.
In the next couple of years, resources like chat GPT could help add the technical ability of an embedded artificial intelligence tool to your software for compiling changes in your operations. So it’s going to be like real-time diligence of your own work or in your community work or on a more global scale work. This is where we need to have certain limits or see how far we can go. But I see the beauty of these advancements. All this togetherness of intelligence will be automated during the next couple of years. And we are working on that.