The Great Industrial Exhibition of 1851 in London launched a historic global event that now spans 170 years. Image Credit: Courtesy: Expo 2020 Dubai

Dubai: A 170 years after the first world expo was held in London, where inventions such as the fax machine that would go on to revolutionise communication were unveiled, Dubai is taking over the role as host to this global convention this year, complete with 142 creators. In doing so, the city becomes the first-ever in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia region.

Some of the notable creations introduced at world expos over the years include ketchup, colour television, mobile phones – and the Paris’ Eiffel Tower, which was built by France in 1889 when it hosted the world expo.

As the world awaits with bated breath for the new advances to be revealed when the expo kicks off, on October 1, we look at some of the developments we can look forward to as well as some extraordinary inventions that have come before.

The Bureau International des Expositions marks 170 years
On May 1, 2021, the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), the regulatory body of World Expos, marked 170 years since the first global fair in 1851.
How does it work? The Paris-based intergovernmental organisation, which is made up of 169 member states, regulates four types of international exhibitions: world expos, specialised expos, horticultural expos and the works at the Milan museum Triennale di Milano.
In 2013, BIE elected Dubai to host the World Expo in 2020, a plan pushed to 2021 owing to the global coronavirus crisis. Such a fair brings together countries to showcase their achievements and inventions in self-built pavilions for a better future.

So what can we expect at Expo 2020 Dubai?

At this World Expo, 142 innovators from across the globe will present their practical yet sustainable solutions to real-world problems in the fields of education, health, employment and many more. Here's a look at some installations in play:

Al Wasl Plaza: 360-degree projection dome

Al Wasl Plaza dome lit up with colourful laser projections at Expo 2020 Dubai Image Credit: Courtesy: Expo 2020 Dubai

At the heart of the Expo site lies a 130-metre-wide, 67.5-metre-tall dome, Al Wasl Plaza, which also happens to be a 360-degree laser projection surface – the largest of its kind in the world.

Terra – The Sustainability Pavilion: Energy trees

The UK-based Grimshaw Architects, the mastermind behind the net-zero energy and net-zero water building, fitted the largest canopy of the pavilion with 1,055 solar panels and built 18 ‘Energy Trees’.

Housed in the Sustainability District, this self-sustaining pavilion combats the hot and arid desert climate with tree-shaped solar panels among actual flora, and water harvested from the surrounding air.

While the Energy Trees provide shade, they also track the sun’s path across the sky to conserve as much power as possible.

Terra – The Sustainability Pavilion houses a large canopy and smaller 18 Energy Trees affixed with solar panels. Image Credit: Courtesy: Expo 2020 Dubai

Austria Pavilion: 38 cooling cones

Inspired by traditional Arab windcatchers or wind towers, the Austria Pavilion offers a sustainable alternative to air-conditioning units in the form of 38 cooling cones.

Loam, an inexpensive and sustainable soil dating back to ancient times, was used to construct the cone structures, where cool air would circulate at the base while hot air would rise.

Netherlands Pavilion: Vertical farming

Netherlands has opted for a biotope, a natural habitat, instead of the typical pavilion to offer solutions to global challenges such as water scarcity, food security and clean energy.

Meet ‘SunGlacier’, a Dutch innovation, developed by designer Ap Verheggen & SunGlacier Technologies, which will harvest hundreds of litres of water from air.

The harvested water will then be used to irrigate a cone-shaped vertical farm at the centre of the pavilion. The giant green cone grows edible plants on the surface and oyster mushrooms on the inside.

Algae-containing water and microorganisms will transform dry desert soil into a fertile oasis at the Czech Republic Pavilion. Picture used for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Karolina Grabowska for Pexels

Czech Republic Pavilion: From desert to oasis

Czech Republic will use special algae-containing water and microorganisms to transform dry desert soil into a fertile oasis at the pavilion. To do this, water will first be extracted from ambient air.

This cultivation of the desert is part of a two-system Solar Air Water Earth Resource (S.A.W.E.R.) technology developed by the Botanical Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.

The Innovation Impact Grant Programme

At Expo 2020 Dubai, some other potentially life-altering propositions will also be introduced through the Innovation Impact Grant Programme; selected projects will be granted up to $100,000 (Dh367,320) each for development.

Check out some of these solutions from global innovators:

wheat crop
Munch Bowls, one of the Global Innovators projects under the Expo Live programme, is an edible wheat bowl with a shelf life of 15 months. Picture used for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: icon0.com for Pexels

Munch Bowls (Pty) Ltd. from South Africa: an edible wheat bowl that reduces waste at the cost of a filling snack. With a long shelf life of 15 months, the Munch Bowl offers an alternative to plastic containers.

Coolar from Germany: This is a solar-powered refrigerator that runs on zero electricity. Coolar makes storing vaccines and medicines a possibility in countries with unreliable electricity, a particularly timely invention considering the stable cool temperatures that are required to keep COVID vaccines tenable.

CaribePay (Nevis) Ltd. from St. Kitts & Nevis: cashless society has been our reality for a while now, but imagine if you could pay without electricity or the internet. This fintech solutions company wants the world to transition to a cashless society without slow and risky payments.

Historic World Expo innovations 

Past inventions such as the ketchup, colour television and mobile phone serve as an important reminder of the impact World Expos have had on our lives. Picture: The Great Industrial Exhibition of 1851 in London. Image Credit: Courtesy: Expo 2020 Dubai

Did you know? Tomato ketchup was an invention presented at the 1876 Expo Philadelphia, in the United States.

Check out some of the other products that went from being showcased at the global dias to our homes:

Electric car: At the 1900 World Expo in Paris, Ferdinand Porsche and Ludwig Lohner showed off their electric-powered vehicle, the success of which led to the launch of the world’s first-ever hybrid car, the Lohner-Porsche Mixed Hybrid.

Mobile phone: Japanese telecoms company NTT wowed the public with a cordless phone at the 1970 World Expo in Osaka, Japan.

QWERTY keyboard: Christopher Latham Sholes reformed the keyboard layout to what we know today on the Remington No.1 typewriter, displayed at the 1876 World Expo in Philadelphia, United States.

Ultra HDTV: A 600-inch screen with ultrahigh-definition video and sound system was developed by NHK Science & Technical Research Laboratories and showcased at World Expo 2005 in Aichi, Japan.

Prior to Expo 2020 Dubai, expositions have been hosted in diverse cities of the world such as St Louis, Paris, New York, Osaka and Shanghai.

- The writer is an intern with Gulf News.