Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, attended the launch of a smart university campus that will help to lead the charge towards a more sustainable future.
The University of Birmingham Dubai's high-tech grounds, in Dubai International Academic City, feature a “floating” library, a living laboratory, and tens of thousands of sensors to help meet a net-zero carbon target by 2035.
It covers an area of 30,000 square metres and is fitted with 23,000 Internet of Things (IoT) sensors which can adjust lighting based on occupancy and environmental changes, while capturing data which can be analysed to ensure energy is used sustainably.
Sheikh Hamdan said on Twitter following the visit that Dubai's goal was to be a major education capital that attracts the brightest young minds from around the world.
Adam Tickell, vice chancellor at University of Birmingham Dubai, said the goal was to create the world's smartest campus in partnership with Siemens, the German industrial conglomerate.
Boosting efficiency to help the planet
The living lab “uses data from people in the building”, Mr Tickell said.
“We're using data from people, and the sensors try to understand the way that the building and the people interact. It's almost like not thinking about people in the building as separate but thinking of them as part of a whole organism.
“When we walk into a room and we turn on lights or air-conditioning, the sensors allow us to adjust what's happening. Immediately, we can also use the data that we get from across the whole campus to analyse so that we can become much more energy efficient.”
Besides digital sensors, the campus uses analytical technologies, artificial intelligence, decentralised energy storage and renewables.
“The primary motivation was absolutely to reduce our energy and carbon consumption to the lowest possible level,” Mr Tickell said.
The University of Birmingham Dubai broke ground on the second phase of its campus in 2019.
In September 2018, the university became the first global top 100 and UK Russell Group university to establish a campus in Dubai.
Enrolments have doubled this year, Mr Tickell said.
“The move from the space that we've been using into our own campus has been transformational,” he said.
“So what we're finding is that enrolments have doubled this year and interest is really, really high. We always knew that it would take a bit of time to attract people, but the fact that we've got the new campus has been transformational for us.”
David Sadler, provost at the University of Birmingham Dubai, said he hoped that smart technology would help to cut energy use by between 15 and 20 per cent.
“Over our time in the building, that's quite a saving,” he said.
The university's design borrows the principles of an Arabic wind tower to create natural cooling in the courtyard.
The project was about five or six years in the making, and construction began two years ago.
Mr Sadler said university programmes include artificial intelligence, machine learning and data science to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow.
Campus key to university's ambitions
The university has about 800 students and 100 staff members, while it can accommodate 2,900 students and 300 staff at capacity.
The campus includes a 300-seat auditorium, six laboratories, a lecture theatre modelled on the horseshoe Harvard Business School style, and 28 classrooms of different capacities.
The university’s floating library refers to the design of the study space. In the middle of the university’s atrium is a stairway styled after the Spanish Steps in Rome. The library is suspended over these steps and seems to float.
Designed by Hopkins Architects, the buildings are located opposite the city’s first purpose-built student housing community and look across parkland.
Mr Tickell said the vision was to fuse the historic style of the Edgbaston campus in England with the heritage, tradition and the beauty of Arabic culture and architecture.
The university will offer 15 new programmes in the autumn, including a bachelor's degree in biomedical science, an MSc in financial mathematics, and an MSc in data science.
While there are staff members who will be based at the Dubai campus on a full-time basis, some UK-based will visit.
Study programmes at the Dubai campus include biomedical science, accounting, financial management, international commercial law, business, economics, computer science, artificial intelligence, public health, psychology, and education degrees that include teacher training in special educational.