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A Seriously Smart Path to Happiness

In 2013, Dubai launched a Smart Dubai program with the aim of becoming the smartest and happiest city on earth. At the heart of these initiatives has been geospatial data. To provide the mapping precision and speed needed for the program and city’s growth, the GIS Center acquired a 3D mobile mapping solution. The new system has not only enabled the group to map Dubai in record time, it’s helping them build the smartest and happiest city.

A significant part of Smart Dubai has been GeoDubai, a comprehensive scheme managed by Dubai Municipality’s GIS Center to collect and provide all geospatial data and related services across the entire UAE. 

Although the GIS Center has been collecting and processing geospatial data of the entire Dubai emirate since 2001, keeping pace with its ever-changing city has been challenging. The department needed a mapping system that would allow them to safely and precisely capture Dubai’s infrastructure as it changes.

In late 2018, the GIS Center acquired the Trimble MX9 mobile mapping solution, a vehicle-mounted 3D mapping system that captures centimeter-grade spatial data at highway speeds without sacrificing data quality or crew safety. In mid-2019, the Center initiated its first major mobile-mapping project: imaging and scanning the emirate’s roads and urban infrastructure.


To provide geospatial referencing to the MX9 system, the Dubai Municipality Survey Department has a network of roughly 12,000 existing ground control points (GCPs) to provide centimeter-accuracy control for the mobile mapping. The department also has a network of Virtual Reference Stations (VRS) to support RINEX postprocessing for the MX9’s GNSS.

With the MX9 mounted on their SUV, a two-person crew scanned any visible feature within 400 m of the road while driving 80 km/hr. On average it took the team two to three hours to acquire 100 km of data per day on both sides of the roads; by the end of April 2020, they had captured all of Dubai’s major roadways, landmarks and buildings in 3D.

Camera view

“A surveyor using conventional technology would likely need nearly two months to cover the same amount of distance we collect in one day,” said Maryam Obaid Almheiri, the GIS Center’s Director. “We get 360-degree panoramas every five seconds and two million 3D points per second of everything that’s there. There’s no comparison.”

Car mounted

After each data acquisition run, a team used a suite of Trimble software tools to process the data. Once the MX9’s GNSS and inertial data were processed with POSPac, the Trimble Business Center software integrated the trajectory information and the control point measurements to geo-reference the data collected from the MX9 cameras and scanners. After processing and colorizing each point cloud, they extracted a host of features such as road furniture, signs, houses and building outlines to produce vectorized maps for GIS-based analyses.

Point cloud

The street view, panoramic images, point clouds and base maps were published on the GIS Center’s GeoDubai advanced geospatial portal, giving public and private end users the ability to view, measure and study any feature or structure in the city. Last June, the 3D mobile mapping data was integrated with the GIS Center’s latest smart innovation: Dubai Here, a Web browser system that offers access to geospatial data including maps of Dubai’s landmarks, commercial and residential structures, parks, trees, bridges, tunnels and transit network.

Based on their initial 3D mapping success, the GIS Center is confident the MX9 system will steer them in the right direction towards building the smartest and happiest city.

“What makes the mobile mapping data so effective is that no explanation is needed. Unlike with a singular GNSS survey point, with the MX9 street views, users can see the whole city in front of them. It’s so much easier to use.” — Maryam Obaid Almheiri, GIS Center Director, Dubai Municipality