Autonomous, electric vehicles are about to turn the world of transportation upside down.
Certain industries, including insurance, internal combustion carmakers and even drive-through restaurants, must brace themsleves up for its potential knock-on effect, say experts.
Dubai is on a roll to become one of the early adopters by introducing electric, driverless transport in a big way and ahead of the world’s major cities.
These are the number of ways that Dubai — at the heart of global fossil fuel trade — is leading this innovative push.
The first is through a conscious, policy-driven effort towards the introduction of smart and driverless vehicles. By 2030, Dubai aims that 25 per cent of all transportation trips in the emirate will be smart and driverless.
That may seem like a tall order today.
But in a city that already enjoys a 75-km all-electric, driverless Metro system for the last eight years, this may not be too way off the mark. And it's about to cover more ground.
Work to extend the Dubai Metro to "Route 2020”, which will serve the Dubai World Expo centre, has already started.
In May, Mattar Al Tayer, Director General and Chairman of the board of Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), unveiled the 2030 target, by which at least 25 per cent of trips in the Emirate are to be smart and driverless.
“Future transportation is already in Dubai with self-driving shuttles being tried in Downtown Dubai and Jumeirah Beach Residences and due to a deployment of hybrid taxis which constitute 7.5 per cent of the total fleet of taxis,” Al Tayer told a recent conference in Abu Dhabi.
While the capacity for self-driving transport will be unleashed in the next few years across the globe, it requires legislation and regulations, and sustainable infrastructure.
More importantly, it also requires a change of mindset among the people. That mindset has long been embraced by Dubai and the UAE.
As half per cent of cars rolling out of assembly lines around the world are expected to have self-driving features in 10 years, the UAE has targeted that up to 50 per cent of its energy needs will come from clean, renewable energy in 10 years.
As billions of dollars are being poured in developing driverless, electric transport — including by the likes of Google, Apple, Uber, Lyft, Tesla and the major carmakers — the UAE is investing billions of dollars in renewables not only in the country, but also overseas.
Earlier this week, RTA announced extensive trials to start in fourth quarter of 2017 for Dubai Air taxis — manned aerial drones that will take passengers from Point A to B in the city.
While international rules for aerial personal transport are yet to be laid down, Dubai has gone ahead of its peers by putting the air taxis on trial, which would enable it to help further develop the technology that will be used by cities in the future.
This strategy shows its boldness in shaping the future today. One indication that self-driving and renewable transport will become woven into the daily life in Dubai is the 200 Tesla electric cars — all equipped with "auto-pilot" gear — that will be used in the city soon.
The order has been placed and Telsa is expected to open its Dubai showroom — its first in the Middle East — this summer.
Yet UAE's drive towards greener, autonomous transport doesn’t end there.
To lead the push in curbing greenhouse gases, Suhail Mohammad Faraj Al Mazroui, Minister of Energy, announced on June 1 a national plan that calls for 10 per cent of vehicle fleets of federal government ministries and agencies to be comprised of electric vehicles.
Moreover, a new national incentive plan to promote green transport is also now in the works — as the government is working with banks, car manufacturers and insurance companies to to entice motorists into the electric vehicle (EV) market.
No details had been revealed yet, but in other countries, incentives for electric car owners include free or reduced road toll fees, free parking and electricity rebates to encourage traditional petrol-car buyers to plug into electric transport.
RTA believes smart driverless systems will eventually help boost road safety.
Dubai recorded 332 traffic fatalities in 2006, with mortality rate at 21.7 deaths per 100,000 in that year. This was reduced to 166 fatal vehicular accidents in 2016, or 3.5 deaths per 100,000 in 2016.
The Dubai Metro, which serves more than 500,000 passengers daily, has an excellent safety record: In the last 8 years, the only fatal accident recorded on the driverless Dubai Metro was a suicide in 2012.
The key benefit: cleaner, safer, efficient power generation and transportation will make residents and citizens be happier.
Happiness has become the overarching mission of the UAE's leaders. From the use apps and smart cards to get rid of queues to the use of tablet-based emoticons to measure customer service counters, there's an on-going drive so that every service, at both the government and private sectors, will eventually be indexed in terms of customer happiness.
It's all coming to Dubai and the UAE, not out of wishful thinking, but as part of a big push from the very top to embrace the future today.