Oracle's new 'mini smart city' is revolutionizing your work commute- here's how

From robot dogs to AI and a train that could take you to Mars, the company's labs showcase a vision of your sustainable (work) future.
Sade Agard
An illustration of a smart city
An illustration of a smart city


From robot dogs to AI and drones, multinational computer technology company Oracle is building a network of 'mini smart cities.' Included in their plans is a 30-year-old train repurposed to model taking you to any destination - and yes, that could be Mars.

The 'Innovation Industry Labs', as they are called, provide a means for multiple industries to physically test transformative technologies as solutions to the toughest sustainability challenges.

Earlier this year, Oracle opened the doors to its new 30,000-square-foot Oracle Industry Lab in Chicago. Now, the company is building an expanded version of the lab in Reading, UK. Oracle's innovation labs are intended to showcase sustainable practices and technology in several industries - hospitality, food and beverage, engineering and construction, transportation, communications, and energy and water. The Lab in Reading will have a particular focus on transportation. To gain an exclusive peak, IE speaks with Oracle Vice President of Innovation, Dr. Burçin Kaplanoğlu.

'It's not an office space- It's a little town center, which looks like a train station built in the middle of it'

Oracle's new 'mini smart city' is revolutionizing your work commute- here's how
It's a little the mini smart city features a town center with a train station built in the middle of it

In an interview, Kaplanoğlu explained to IE that Oracle's sustainability goals are designed to align with the UN and UK goals. That is, to achieve net zero, the point at which the amount of carbon reduced balances the amount of carbon emitted.

"To achieve those goals, we must also innovate and physically do certain activities," explains Kaplanoğlu. "So it's one thing to use technologies; it's another thing to physically do them. To achieve that, we actually built an innovation lab in Reading - close to London."

The Reading lab plans to simulate transportation in the typical work day, including leaving your home, using private and mass transport, and traveling the last mile to work.

"To picture this, it is not an office space. It is built like a little town center, which looks like a train station that's built in the middle of it," reveals Burçin Kaplanoğlu.

A command center surrounded by 'synergies' to test and create sustainability approaches

Oracle's new 'mini smart city' is revolutionizing your work commute- here's how
Drone grocery delivery concept

The lab is essentially a simulation for the use of mass transportation- an ecosystem that taps into many different industries. It features a drive-thru where people driving, say, a Tesla, can check in. "You then need to eat food, right?" prompts Kaplanoğlu.

"You need to check into places you need to get entertainment, and you need to have construction to build all this. Somebody has to build this. Somebody has to design it. And we need to make this energy and water any way we can, sustainable."

"For instance, what happens if you're in that transport and want your groceries to be delivered? We could potentially partner with a company that will do drone grocery deliveries and has them show us how this works," Kaplanoğlu tells IE.

Oracle introduces to IE how they see the potential tech partners as 'testbeds' in the simulation. By physically testing new technology that could make the ecosystem more sustainable, they identify what works or may need fixing to make it more efficient and sustainable. "Usually in the industry space, engineers prototype things rather than physically do them," adds Kaplanoğlu.

Robots delivering towels to your room is not so far-fetched- at least not here

Oracle's new 'mini smart city' is revolutionizing your work commute- here's how
Robot concept in hospitality sector

For instance, "we have few robotic partners who are in the hospitality space," Kaplanoğlu reveals to IE. "In the past, someone came to Oracle and said, 'Hey, I have this amazing technology that will deliver towels to your room.' Before, we had no place to test it. Now we do."

Computer vision is also significant at the labs in Chicago, Reading, and Sydney. For example, the company developed an AI algorithm three years ago designed to recognize social distancing- right around the pandemic started. "We have a camera inside the lab that's been here for over two years. If you are not social distancing, it recognizes this. It pushes data onto one of our applications, creating a safety incident."

Still, don't be quick to assume that this approach focuses on identifying individuals. Oracle clarifies that they "don't do facial recognition" with this technology. Instead, education is the logic behind it. "Let's say in the first week; you had 10 violations, the second week, 23, and the week after that 30. It's showing you it's trending the wrong way. We could then use this data to educate the contractor," Kaplanoğlu explains.

AI for tackling the 10% of global greenhouse emissions which construction alone accounts for

In view of a BBC article highlighting that the construction sector alone is responsible for more than 10% of global greenhouse emissions, Kaplanoğlu highlights the significance of AI as a powerful predictive tool for engineering projects and how this can help reduce CO2.

"One of our products will say, 'there's a 90% probability your project will [be delayed] by 10 days, and here's why. It is part of our smart construction platform."

The company highlights that anything they can do to help this industry deliver projects faster will ultimately reduce waste - and AI could help. Reducing the timeline will help reduce the pollution a project creates. "There's a huge waste issue in construction. If we don't have to waste materials, this will help this planet significantly," explains Kaplanoğlu.

A life-sized lego world where structures can be broken into pieces and remodeled

From design, build, and operation right through to decommissioning (reaching the end of a project's life), Kaplanoğlu explains that Oracle aims to transform these four components to highlight and enhance sustainability.

Design components of the mini smart cities include the ability to recycle water- for instance, through rainwater harvesting. Buildings have been constructed using low-carbon concrete, and where others may opt for brand new furniture, Oracle does not. The company appears to be all for recycled goods, from carpets to furniture and interior finishes.

In terms of operations, Oracle uses solar technology to generate energy and aims to push the boundaries of net zero. Whatever energy they consume, they will be able to generate.

"But I think the missing part [in sustainability approaches] is decommissioning," says Kaplanoğlu. I.e., what happens when the building or structure you built has reached its end? Oracle's mini smart cities are designed so they can be broken into small pieces and shipped on the back of a truck.

In fact, the whole transportation station in the mini smart city is built on a steel structure that can be easily disassembled - including the train. The train car comes in sections made in a factory and then shipped to the site.

"We shipped it from the factory to Reading. BBC saw us on the road. On the morning show. Someone told us they [BBC] were joking and mentioned, 'Hey, did you see that train? Car? Truck?'" adds Kaplanoğlu.

And about that train...

A train line where the world- and space- is your oyster

Oracle's new 'mini smart city' is revolutionizing your work commute- here's how
OK, perhaps not the futuristic bullet train in mind- but the concept is there

Kaplanoğlu reveals to IE, "When I worked on the train design- It could be, a fast train, like a bullet train. It could be a Hyperloop. It is also designed to take you to any destination when you go inside. That destination could be Mars."

'We don't know what future materials look like, So we're leaving some parts open'

And some parts of the site have yet to be built- the vice president lets us know that this is intentional.

"This is because we don't know what future materials look like, right? So we're leaving some parts open," Kaplanoğlu explains. For example, IE is given the example of a house that hasn't been built simply because Oracle doesn't know what that house looks like- at least not yet.

Many different thoughts about the house have been thrown around within the company, with some suggesting a super futuristic home should be constructed from scratch in the mini-city. Others suggest buying an old house, shipping it to the lab, and showing how it could be retrofitted.

After all, most people- at least in Europe- have traditional homes and do not have super-modern, futuristic dwellings. Therefore, focusing on making old homes more energy efficient and sustainable makes sense. "We haven't decided which way to go. Still, it is currently in the plan to build a house there in its future state," says Kaplanoğlu.

Construction is complete. However, the lab is yet to be operational

It will take at least another three months for the technologies at the site to be functional. And when this is complete, IE does plan to visit.

"So this is not like a museum or an exhibit. It's constantly evolving, constantly changing. And the minute we don't evolve, it's no longer an innovation lab. That's how it's designed."

As promising as Oracle labs appear, the company admits it can't solve every problem- at least not alone. "Oracle, combined with our trusted partner integrations available on the Oracle Cloud Marketplace, need to work together to solve industry-specific problems," explains Kaplanoğlu.

The following steps for the company include expanding its ecosystem of trusted partner integrations to solve these industry problems.

Kaplanoğlu says, "Oracle Industry Lab is not a demo space; it's a test bed," when prompted to address any misconceptions about what Oracle does. We build simulated real-world environments, like a town center with a train car, so that we can replicate real-world scenarios and co-innovate within the ecosystem. "

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board