From erecting 3D-printed buildings to introducing artificial intelligence, smart technology and blockchain in different industries, the UAE is transforming itself by embracing various technological advances. Its latest mission involves futuristic transportation concepts, which will unlock unheard-of possibilities in the construction and design spaces. In September, Dubai tested its first automated aerial taxi, built by Volocopter, a German specialty manufacturer of autonomous air vehicles. The self-flying, two-seat drone has a top speed of 100km per hour, with a maximum flight time of 30 minutes. Dubai’s road and energy authorities are also offering incentives to encourage the motorist to buy zero-carbon emission electric vehicles (EVs), as the emirate wants to bring in 42,000 EVs on its streets by 2030. Residents will enjoy benefits such as free public charging, free parking, free EV registration, free Salik tags and a licence plate sticker identifying the vehicle as an electric car.
Walid El Hindi, CEO of Imkan, an Abu Dhabi-based developer, says that the new modes of transport will have a significant impact on the way urban environments are designed. While much of the public space today is dedicated to cars, driverless cars and ride-sharing technology promise to reduce the need for parking spaces, he adds.
“Currently most cars are only used 5 per cent of the time, and due to the UAE’s demographics, most trips have relatively few passengers,” says El Hindi. “New technology promises to increase the efficiency of vehicle utilisation. With this greater efficiency comes the possibility of designing public spaces that are healthier, with more pedestrianised zones, more parks and trees, and greater space for the community.”
Innovative car parks
An Imkan project that is a step in this direction, Makers District, a mixed-use development on Reem Island, is currently at the ideation stage. It will include facilities for electric vehicles and will accommodate new transportation technologies such as flying autonomous cars.
“It integrates commercial and residential components in a pedestrianised zone that encourages community formation,” says El Hindi. “Through its public and common spaces, it will give a platform for local creatives and artists to introduce their work to the wider Abu Dhabi community. The Artery, a novel hybrid structure located in the heart of Makers District, is designed to have multiple uses in addition to serving an overflow parking function.”
El Hindi explains that car parks are traditionally viewed as negative spaces that are necessary to the developments they support.
“They are usually unoccupied outside of peak hours, with dead zones in the office parking areas after working hours, and dead zones in residential areas during working hours,” says El Hindi. “Considering how much space they occupy, their usage has traditionally been quite inefficient, and hence they are often sidelined — physically and conceptually — as development components.”
With Makers District, Imkan is converting the parking space into a central pulse of the development. “By designing an innovative double helix ramp, we have built in flexibility for multiple simultaneous uses of the parking space, allowing large elements of it to be used for commercial and creative purposes, insulated from the noise and pollution cars typically generate,” says El Hindi. “The Artery can serve as an events and theatre space, and the platforms on the ancillary helix can be used for everything from art mural spaces to basketball courts.”
High energy prices, climate change and government regulation are already pushing sustainability high on the real estate agenda, says Vijay Doshi, founder and managing director of Vincitore Real Estate Developments. He anticipates that over the next few years, the impact on real estate will be far more significant, with technology and sustainability becoming the two key drivers of value.
“The advancement of technologies will accelerate the greening of buildings,” says Doshi. “As the cost of improving buildings’ environmental performance falls in line with the lower costs of technological innovations, such as solar panels and efficient heating systems, we see a lot of value engineering taking place regarding architecture and design.”
While drone technology is making air travel within the city a possibility in the near future, Doshi believes land-based transport will remain the norm.
“The drone laws are a recent happening, and in Dubai the licensing for the drone will face more restrictions as the technology becomes more common around the world,” says Doshi. “So, it is not essential to have drone landing zones. However, electric vehicles will soon become a necessity, given the influx of visitors and business owners expected to be seen in time for the World Expo 2020 and beyond. Parking zones for electric vehicles are becoming a necessity in Dubai as users of such transport are increasing, and developers will add these types of amenities accordingly based on the demand.”
The city of the future will become more connected and permeable than ever, points out Michael Fowler, managing director of Aedas Middle East. “Growing up sharing their lives in real time through social media, the next generation will live in cities that place more emphasis on community spaces than individual castles,” says Fowler. “In a world enriched by virtual and augmented reality, buildings will become background, not content. In turn, residential units will be smaller, but far more intelligent. Up to now, a smartphone has more technology than a typical dwelling unit, but this will change as the Internet of Things, robotics, and artificial intelligence transform our homes into true machines for living.”
Although drone transport will inevitably be implemented, it remains to be seen whether a drone landing pad will become a vital feature in every development the same way automobile parking has now become a necessity.
“Drones may be a solution to traffic congestion only when they are few,” says Fowler. “If any significant share of current vehicular circulation were taken up by drones, congestion in the air would become an issue, despite the expected benefit of automated central control. Simply moving individual transport into the sky is not really an ideal solution.”
Also, as the electric vehicles proliferate, they will help reduce pollution and increase energy efficiency, but this will not change the fundamental challenges of urban traffic. “The self-driving potential of both drones and automobiles will yield greater efficiencies in transport,” says Fowler. “By allowing a degree of coordination and cooperation not typical for human drivers, automated vehicles will be safer and more efficient. However, the paradigm of the private car and driver has to change.”
While there is a lot of talk about the construction industry’s readiness to change, Fowlers says the capital-intensive building industry remains traditionally slow to change. “The building codes and planning regulations need more flexibility to welcome new technologies,” he says. “Contractual arrangements need to become more collaborative rather than adversarial. The whole delivery process for built space must become industrial, with buildings viewed more like a high-quality premium product than a bespoke masterpiece of the developer, designer or builder.”
As developers adapt and transform their developments to satisfy the needs of the people that live in them, the government is also taking a proactive role in keeping stakeholders on board with its policies. “We have seen in the UAE changes in the fire code following fire-related incidents, which have exposed deficiencies in some materials and building techniques,” says Nathan Hones, partner at Carter Associates. “In no other country in the world do the authorities and municipal departments respond so quickly to address improvements in code and regulation, especially as it relates to occupant safety.”
While developers may find it a challenge to satisfy the new requirements, Hones believes they are embracing the changes and in turn use these to create unique selling points (USPs) in their developments.
“With stiff competition among developers of residential communities and commercial developments, any evidence that a developer can illustrate that they are responding to the changing times and are incorporating futuristic needs and the infrastructure to support that, can only help support sales and shift inventory,” says Hones.
In the future, Hones expects even more consolidation of tall buildings around transportation nodes in major cities.
“The popularity of drones is increasing at rapid rates. Pick-up and drop-off points, accessibility and security infrastructure, will all need to adapt to be able to receive drone deliveries,” he says. “We already see preferential car parking locations for low-fuel usage vehicles, small cars and electric cars. In the future, driverless cars will also receive prime car parking spaces in easy-to-access locations.
“Currently, electric cars require a dedicated charging station in car parks, and you will find these cars grouped together. However, just like you can charge your mobile phone now by placing it on a charging pad instead of plugging it in, eventually we envisage car parking areas will simply charge your car while you park.”
Ready for the future
Developers that are not taking into consideration emerging transportation concepts in their projects may not be able to attract buyers in the future, says Muhammad Obaid, founder of Emkaan, an architectural and engineering consultancy.
Although the government has not announced specific guidelines for transportation facilities in real estate projects, Obaid says developers must already take into consideration the infrastructure needs that will feed these future demands. For instance, allotting space within the building or nearby for autonomous vehicles and preparing the infrastructure to accommodate electric cars park power supply.
“I expect those early adopters of technology to survive the coming 10-20 years, while others will be struggling in the future,” says Obaid.
Talking about his current projects, Obaid says some of his clients have made it a requirement to include facilities that will support the smooth operation of futurist transportation in their developments. “A client developing a resort in RAK wants to include all necessary facilities that support the use of flying taxi and in another client’s project in the desert near Dubai’s southern border, they require flying taxis to be the main transportation facility.”
Obaid sees the face of Dubai changing slightly in the coming 10 years, and he expects to see electric cars power supply being available in most of the buildings. “The flying taxi will be in use but not that much, and it will be limited to some authorities only,” he says. “However, in future, the autonomous self-flying drones will be available for all and like the cars, people will be parking their flying drones in their buildings, especially in Dubai, the city that never stops surprising us.”
He believes that using drones for transport will help make streets walk friendly, with more narrow roads. This will in turn encourage an active lifestyle, he says.
“People are comfortable to walk in narrow shaded streets than areas that have highways. The current width of roads designed for cars, approximately 15m, will return to its original smaller width, prioritising the needs of humans, focusing on microclimates and child safety. Narrowing the streets not only enables more shaded areas, but it also reduces the effect of heat islands.”
Concerning building parking design, he believes designers will now have two main options. “One on the roof for autonomous drone passengers and one on the ground for pedestrians,” says Obaid. “Parking spaces currently on the ground, in basements and multistorey buildings would be replaced by parking lots on roofs, dedicated to drones. Most likely, ground parking spaces would be replaced by landscaping.”