GETTING SMART GETTING SMART

From IoT to artificial intelligence, this home-grown start-up is making startling advances within the technology space. As we sit down with its Founder Mohamed Sadek for an exclusive chat, we can’t help being proud, inspired and awed – all at the same time!

COM-IoT Technologies is an IoT innovation start-up that was established in the UAE in June 2016. The company focuses on developing intelligent connected solutions utilising LiDAR technology, arrays of sensors, mapping systems and integrated technologies for use in three areas: smart city, traffic safety and device management through its global IoT platform.

“We’re driven by a desire to contribute towards smarter management of our planet’s resources as well as enhancing security and liveability of our communities through the application of smart connected sensors and other IoT technology. We just finished updating our website to reflect our offering and where we are today at www.com-iot.com,” remarks Mohamed Sadek with pride.

Mohamed is the founder of the company and the visionary driving its growth. Since founding COM-IoT, he has spent 10 months building his innovation lab, developing prototypes and recruiting top talent. “As a start-up, we are still reliant on our initial seed funding. The more funds we can have access to, the faster we are able to bring in the relevant resources that our expected business growth will continue to require.”

Setting the foundations

COM-IoT is now able to approach the market and demonstrate the efficacy of it’s smart solutions. Currently, the company is in the proof of concept (POC) stage with a leading IT company in Western Europe and is looking forward to a retained business partnership following successful trials.

“In terms of growth, we are extremely confident that the market will embrace our intelligent energy saving and cost-cutting solutions given our strategic presence in Dubai, the region’s leader in smart city initiatives, and in Chicago, Illinois, a city that has just been ranked among the top 10 cities around the world expected to lead in technology innovation during the next four years, according to KPMG’s annual Global Technology Innovation report (2017).”

As more than 60 per cent of the global population is expected to be urban by 2020, smart solutions are poised to take centre stage to help manage the associated pressures in the coming years. Already claiming an increasing share of the global market for connected devices, Cisco estimates the IoT market will be valued at US$19 trillion by 2022 with 50 billion connected devices by then. “Governments, supranational bodies, research institutions and business leaders recognise a global need for smart city and IoT management solutions to promote smarter, safer and more sustainable cities – that’s where we find ourselves in a special position to apply our passion and expertise.” Mohamed adds. In addition to pioneering prototypes for smart city solutions and creating a secure global IoT platform for enterprise, the company’s thriving IoT innovation lab, built from the ground up with a small but powerful team of five members specialising in artificial intelligence, data science and data analytics, has been one of it’s proudest achievements so far. It is perhaps one of very few of its kind in the UAE and the wider region, having seen considerable team expansion and employing cutting-edge technology to advance initiatives for smarter, more sustainable cities in a truly grassroots effort.

Combating challenges

Mohamed opens up about the tough side of entrepreneurship. “Our work in machine learning, object detection and other related AI processes require access to training data in the initial development phase of our solutions. The biggest challenge we’ve been facing is the limited availability of training data, which is what we feed to our intelligent systems so that they can learn how to recognise objects in real-time,” he explains.

Restricted access to training data is directly related to how much time each development cycle requires before his solutions can be ready for use. The more training data he can access through open source and other available sources, the faster his technology team can make progress in research, development and execution. When training data is limited, it slows down research which requires him to find alternative means of accessing applicable and reliable open-source data to fine-tune his solutions and conduct necessary trials; it is a factor of time. Mohamed faces a tough predicament given that data is a sensitive area – and requires a lot of primary research and practical groundwork.

Here’s what he’s doing to find a way around the problem. “When open-source training data is limited, our team members go out to the field to collect sample training data on a representative scale which we use to teach our intelligent systems to recognise different types of objects and other variables. Once we have trained our intelligent systems, we can proceed to test their designed capabilities in the field. All in all, while it is an ongoing process to overcome the scarcity in specialised datasets for our requirements, we have seen success in our efforts and we continue to be up to the challenge.”

The more data Mohamed could collect from the field and from open sources, which he feeds to his systems for training, the more intelligent they become and the higher the accuracy of their results in trials. Consequently, he can finalise his products for market testing, which naturally increases his team’s productivity, helping him achieve his goals quicker. On a the non-technological front, Mohamed is concentrating on expanding his team and building his brand position. “We are growing the team, primarily in the technology area as R&D will remain the biggest continuous leading effort in the burgeoning IoT field. We are also investing in public relations and while focusing our efforts on business development to drive growth and better engage with our partners and target communities,” he quips. Local business, global ambitions

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It is rare to find an entrepreneur like Mohamed, who is creating something disruptive from scratch and building technologies that put him on par with global businesses. But, he believes his humble beginnings are the foundation of his successful business. “We are proud to have started in the Middle East and particularly in Dubai, the region’s entrepreneurial heartbeat. COM-IoT Technologies is one of a few IoT innovation companies in Dubai whose solutions are being developed locally as opposed to in Silicon Valley or Berlin.”

“We stay competitive because of our belief in our technology and the vision behind our endeavour. In addition to our readiness in this young and promising market, our commitment to our mission, customers and our desire to execute help us stand out.”

Seizing the future opportunities

Of course, Mohamed’s ambition knows no limits; he’s the kind of entrepreneur that aims for the best, and leaves no stone unturned to achieve it. Speaking of his plans for the future, he says, “Our short-term plan is to attract the market’s attention to our work and deploy our technology. Our long-term plans include making a strong contribution towards introducing time and resource saving solutions that improve conditions for people and the environment, and becoming a model for other IoT companies.”

“I also want to create a work environment where team members are not afraid of failure and feel encouraged to experiment, learn new skills and focus on their passions, maximising productivity and dedication to our cause.”

He currently also has a lot on his plate and further developments in the pipeline. “We are currently developing a POC for our technology with a leading company in Western Europe that works with a local municipality and law enforcement. Additionally, we recently participated in a smart cities hack-a-thon hosted by the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) in Atlanta, Georgia. We were the only international team out of more than 45 participants. Our waste management solution was well received and, as a result, we are planning follow-up discussions with MARTA at their request,” he shares delightfully.

“2017 is set to witness concrete steps taken by many regional and global cities to deploy ground breaking technological solutions in waste management, parking management, traffic safety and other spheres of urban life. In line with global sustainable development goals, nearly every country has allocated budgets and formed initiatives that are working towards one or more smart city solutions with the aim of making communities safer, infrastructure smarter and the environment better protected. We believe we are in the right place at the right time to use our mission, expertise and technology to help drive this change,” he concludes.

Rushika Bhatia Editor

Rushika Bhatia is one of the region’s leading commentators on business and current affairs issues. She is the Editor of SME Advisor magazine - the flagship title of CPI Business. She is passionate about infographics – with special emphasis on data, research and statistics. Rushika has a Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University, USA and is also CIMA qualified.

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