Navigating through a smart city

Dubai's autonomous taxi. Image courtesy of Wamda

As the number of people living in cities grows around the world, the need for effective transportation becomes paramount. This year’s Gitex, the region’s largest technology exhibition, showcased the latest in transport technology from flying cars to self-driving taxis.

Today, 55 per cent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is projected to rise to 68 per cent by 2050 according to the United Nations (UN) with some 90 per cent of this growth expected in Africa and Asia.

Smart solutions will be required to manage this growth in a bid to avoid congestion.

As part of its Expo 2020 plans, Dubai has placed great focus on smart city initiatives to help drive innovation and its Road and Transport Authority (RTA) unveiled robot cleaners for its metro stations, a smart app for public transport and the region’s first autonomous taxi.

Designed in partnership with Dubai Silicon Oasis (DSO) and DG World, the autonomous taxi will run on dedicated routes in DSO before being rolled out across the emirate.

The initiative is part of the Dubai Smart Self-Driving Mobility Strategy which aims to transform 25 per cent of the emirate’s total journeys into self-driving ones by 2030. It is intended to cover the “last mile” journeys from the metro and tram stations to the customer’s destination.

One other solution for the “last mile” problem is electric scooters, which can be hired using a dedicated mobile app. Qwik.ly, an off-shoot of UAE-based Acacus Technologies, a machine learning and artificial intelligence company, offers scooters that can be hired for short journeys in Dubai.  

“We have seen there is huge flow from metro stations to offices,” said Ammr Shaladi, UAE country manager at Qwik.ly, whose scooters reach speeds of up to 25 kilometres per hour. “Certain parts of Dubai have very developed infrastructure and scooters are just another tool for transport for the last two miles.”

The company has trialed its service in the emirate and is currently in talks with RTA to launch in a few sites including in Downtown Dubai and Dubai Media City.

Mobile operator Etisalat went a step further and showcased a self-driving, flying car as part of its vision of a smart city.

Underpinning this vision is its 5G technology, which the company claims will be a “game-changer”.

The latest offering in mobile connectivity promises to be 10 times faster than the current 4G spectrum currently deployed.

“5G is a pillar for smart cities and for smart government,” said Saeed Al Zarouni, senior vice president of mobile network at Etisalat. “It will provide the speed and latency you will never have if you stay with 4G, so we have to evolve.”

Etisalat has deployed 5G in a few sites, but consumers are unlikely to experience it before handset manufacturers introduce devices capable of using the spectrum and even then, it might take a few more years before its impact is felt.

“The adoption will be slower than we think,” said Danish Farhan, an angel investor and chief executive officer at Xische, a UAE-based consultancy. “We built so much infrastructure on the back of 4G and as an investor, I see this, people piggyback on a new trend where you exhaust funds and interest in both. When that happens, as an investor you say I’m less interested in the next big thing because I still want some return on investment on the last big thing.”

 

 

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