Internet of things is revolutionizing Hajj pilgrimage
Millions of pilgrims have been undertaking arduous journeys to Makkah for centuries, but never has the priority of convenience and safety reached a level quite like the one we are witnessing now.
The concept of Smart Hajj envisaged by Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 blueprint changed it all by creating a brilliant case study on one of the largest religious gatherings in the world.
Fresh from the onslaughts of the universal pandemic, the Kingdom raised the bar by allowing 1 million domestic and foreign pilgrims to join the Makkah Hajj pilgrimage this year.
Given the vast number of visitors, the onus of organizing seamless rituals and maintaining optimum safety and security now rests on the authorities.
In such cases, it becomes imperative for the authorities to track, monitor, allow actionable insights and resiliency via machine-to-machine inferences and manage considerable crowds to minimize the chance of any overcrowding accidents and further spread of the pandemic. Therefore, there is a dire need for an efficient monitoring and tracking ecosystem.
Smarter technologies for Smart Hajj
The Saudi government is committed to providing pilgrims with a profoundly spiritual experience and is leveraging various technologies to this effect.
The Internet of Things has always been uniquely characterized as the technology that brings the physical realm to the digital world, a nifty trend that allows the convergence of operational technology with information technology to deliver actionable insights to make informed decisions.
It is one of the most utilized technologies in a growing connected ecosystem that ensures uncompromised safety, security, emergency preparedness and response remain top priorities for authorities during such peaks, when every second counts.
With immense data floating across through the entire season, authorities are equipped with IoT to introspect trigged events to draw valuable insights, and take corrective and preventive actions in real-time to ensure crowd safety.
During Hajj, IoT-enabled and retrofitted devices facilitate seamless communication via gadgets such as wristbands, rings, head gears, tags, etc., that occasionally work in conjunction with dedicated smartphone apps, all used by the public administration officials and Hajj visitors. This enables pilgrims to stay connected and eventually organized through improved tracking and crowd management.
The devices spectrum does not stop at what individuals could keep on them, but sensors ought to be well distributed across sites, equipment, vehicles, signs, streets, cameras, beacons, etc.
Data streaming could be video, audio, spatial, temporal, or general measurements, etc. The more data types you invest to receive, the more reliable insights you deem to infer with correlation and analytics.
Many unfortunate tragedies could have been averted using IoT. For instance, in 1990, a bent pedestrian bridge railing led to seven people falling off a bridge onto people exiting the Al-Ma’aisim tunnel leading out from Makkah toward Mina. An IoT solution could have alerted the control center in due time about the potential failure of the bridge and the poor ventilation system in the tunnel.
Several tragic stampede accidents during the Hajj seasons of 2001, 2004 and 2006 in Makkah and a major one in Mina in 2015 were triggered when two large groups of pilgrims intersected from different directions onto the same street. An IoT-enabled crowd management solution would have monitored crowds within congested areas, identified evacuation paths for pilgrims and guided the pilgrims to avoid congestion in real-time.
Pillar of progress
A lot has changed since then. In 2016 when the Kingdom announced the Vision 2030 blueprint, it put technology as one of the pillars of its progress.
This warranted approaches and solutions to keep pilgrims safe and eventually welcome around 5 million by 2030. Today, the Kingdom is a world leader in crowd management by using technology to serve Hajj pilgrims.
Several IoT-based use cases along the way have been developed or envisioned.
Last year, the Kingdom distributed 5,000 IoT-enabled pilgrim smart bracelets to monitor pilgrims’ health condition, including blood oxygen levels and heart rate. Additionally, it provided emergency medical or security assistance request services to accelerate access to their location and rescue operations. Moreover, the bracelet sent awareness messages to pilgrims during the journey.
Instead of investing billions in retrofitting devices to be online, crowdsourcing can utilize data reported from millions of pilgrims to collect all types of flags.
By opting to be part of such a program, pilgrims’ on-body gadgets and smartphones could be a source of data for many aspects, including pollution, noise, accidents, incidents, crimes, waste, etc.
The use of eSIM in sensors, wearables, and devices across all use cases managed by an eSIM management platform for provisioning and subscription lifecycle is also an exciting endeavor.
Pilgrims no longer need to look for communication service providers to buy temporary SIM cards. Instead, Pilgrims get guaranteed coverage by changing providers instantly with new temp plans. With eSIM for Pilgrims, tons of benefits become handy including targeted campaigns, try and buy, streamlined connectivity, premium offers, and crowd guidance. Similar gains for authorities, since “Bootstrapping” new sensors and devices is straightforward without swapping millions of physical SIM cards.
IoT could also disrupt the way ZamZam is distributed. Pilgrims consume millions of liters of spring water during Hajj, provided and refilled manually. However, the entire system can be monitored then be automated using the technology. Additionally, from a predictive maintenance angle, the system that pumps ZamZam can be observed altogether, ensuring that water pumps are timely maintained and operational with no downtime.
Testing new frontiers
Hajj 2022 will witness a marked improvement with new services to advance security and safety measures and crowd management systems in line with its Smart Hajj vision.
The recently announced Smart Pilgrim allows pilgrims to communicate with their service providers and report a violation to the ministry is a technologically backed service and a key initiative for pilgrims to have seamless experiences through the journey.
The ‘Makkah Route’ initiative enables pilgrims from five countries to finalize Hajj-related procedures, including electronic visas at home, passport procedures and luggage formalities of tagging and sorting, all from the comfort of their home countries. Pilgrims traveling from the US, Canada, Australia, and Europe can also apply for Hajj online, eliminating intermediaries within the system.
The Kingdom’s mission for Hajj is to provide a peaceful passage and experience through best-in-class services to pilgrims. As we evolve into a smarter Hajj, adopting technologies such as IoT will continue to eliminate complexities and increase efficiencies, providing newer insights and capabilities for a safer journey through Smart Hajj.
• Muhammed Mokhtar, Regional Chief Architect, Middle East & Türkiye, Software AG