NEOM: a vision for smarter cities

Gary Haldane, Director headshot

Gary Haldane


Middle East

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a mission to address global sustainability challenges through its planned NEOM mega-city with innovations that are redefining city-making and living. The application of new technologies and approaches provides an unprecedented opportunity to develop learning and drive a paradigm shift in city design, construction and operation.

Imagine a city that is designed to meet your every need; where the elevator is waiting for you as you arrive at the office in the morning, your freezer is re-stocked without needing to place a grocery order and your avatar attends a meeting when you can’t be there in person. This is the vision for NEOM, the mega-city now under construction in Saudi Arabia. 

Although often described as a city, NEOM is in fact a series of settlements spanning an area of 26,500km – 33 times the size of New York City – all constructed from scratch and concurrently in a remote north-west corner of the Kingdom in the Tabuk Province. This innovative project in Saudi Arabia is a key element of the country’s Vision 2030 strategy, which looks to reshape the Kingdom’s economy for a post-oil world by growing new opportunities for people and business. 

The Kingdom’s ambitious vision for NEOM aims to demonstrate how innovation and technology can help address global sustainability challenges for the world’s increasingly urbanised population, while also enabling better lives and lifestyles 

Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia said: 

We cannot ignore the liveability and environmental crises facing our world’s cities, and NEOM is at the forefront of delivering new and imaginative solutions to address these issues.

NEOM’s string of giga-projects and mega-projects includes the world’s largest green hydrogen plant, the ultra-efficient, car-free linear city of The Line and the floating industrial hub of Oxagon - with its automated port and smart supply chain network.

The sheer size, scale and complexity of these projects is also demanding fresh technologies and approaches in design and construction. This gives NEOM the potential to provide valuable learning about the application of innovation at scale, which could ultimately redefine not only city-living but the delivery of urban buildings and infrastructure 

Beyond the smart city: using big data 

While many existing cities are looking to become smart by applying big data and the internet of things (IoT) to urban challenges, NEOM will be the world’s first cognitive city. Platforms here will collect data about users’ behaviour, like their work arrival time or grocery order, and apply AI to that data, enabling people’s needs to be anticipated and facilitated.  

As NEOM’s residents go about their daily lives, their data will be fed into the city’s platforms, growing its cognitive capability. The collection of vast quantities of personal data inevitably raises questions around data privacy, ethics and security. Recognising this, NEOM is working to build trust in data sharing through tools such as its consent management platform. 

The aim of this planned, cognitive city is ultimately not to replace human capability, but to increase potential, liberating people from everyday challenges to enable them to lead healthier, more enjoyable, sustainable and productive lives. As a pioneer, the planned city is expected to attract willing early adopters. 

Innovating for delivery 

With its large-scale, complex and pioneering projects, remote location and shortage of local resources and capability, NEOM will be one of the world’s most demanding environments for construction.  

Technology and innovation are helping to address challenges throughout delivery, with initial approaches including: 

  • Collaborative communications platforms - these are allowing the Kingdom to bring together top global teams to deliver these remote projects.
  • Drones - extensively used for projects in Saudi Arabia, drones allow construction progress to be captured, facilitating updating of project schedules and digital twins. Innovation will in time enable data to be directly transferred from drone to software to automatically update schedules.
  • AI for compliance checking - engineering plans and drawings are being checked for compliance against building codes using AI.
  • Innovation Campus - the projects’ scale and innovation demand skills and equipment that are far from commonplace, so NEOM has created its own innovation campus to develop new competencies, technologies and methods. 

Because of the highly innovative nature of so many aspects of NEOM’s giga-projects, we have been carrying out early research to establish the feasibility of some of the pioneering approaches, as well as focusing on cost and programme management throughout delivery. 

Exploring the potential of the metaverse 

NEOM extends the concept of the digital twin with its virtual city XVRS, which is described as a ‘cognitive digital twin metaverse’. 

The digital model will enable the public to engage with NEOM – whether by touring the resort of Trojena or attending a business meeting – as an avatar or hologram. The digital model may have a part to play in driving NEOM’s delivery, enhancing the customer experience when choosing homes for example. 

A game changer for city-making 

NEOM presents a learning opportunity for the global construction industry and has the potential to create a paradigm shift in the application of the new digital and sustainable technologies that will be in demand in tomorrow’s cities.

While few nations may go as far as building their own version of The Line, the innovations being deployed here and elsewhere across the mega-city have the potential to influence the construction industry for years to come, challenging the conventions of city-making and city-living. The ambitions for NEOM are extraordinary and the timescales for delivery intense, but construction is now in progress across the region and this new and remarkable city is emerging. 

For further information contact:

Gary Haldane, Director headshot

Gary Haldane

t: +971 2 441 0955