Initiatives such as DEWA’s EV Green Charger network, which has expanded to more than 325 charging stations across Dubai, shows the emirate and the UAE as being firmly in the driving seat while guiding the automotive sector into a sustainable future ripe with opportunity and the promise of progress Image Credit: GN Archives

A video that went viral on social media channels earlier this year showed a spaceship hovering close to Dubai’s Museum of the Future before the landmark structure’s top portion opened up and the aircraft smoothly entered the building and docked inside. While the obviously altered clip was aimed at whipping up interest in the futuristic experiences awaiting visitors to the museum, it could very well be seen as a preview of what could become a reality in the UAE in the not-so-distant future.

In fact, a few months later, Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) and the Museum of the Future announced a partnership to showcase future mobility solutions, from personal jet packs to self-driving cars, within the architectural marvel.

Wheel in the future

As part of the Tomorrow, Today exhibition, visitors get a chance to see some of the world’s most advanced mobility solutions such as personal jetpacks, medical drones, food delivery robots, electric bikes, and electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft (eVTOL). It also showcases a dynamic wireless charging system for electric vehicles and buses in motion using Shaped Magnetic Field In Resonance (SMFIR) technology.

This revolutionary network when deployed beneath road surfaces will provide smart wireless charging of electric vehicles even as they drive through the city. While the idea of autonomous mobility that uses artificial intelligence, machine learning, and geospatial data could seem a long way from being a reality, the pace at which the UAE is pushing ahead towards green, sustainable, and environmentally friendly transportation is indeed mind-boggling.

In the emirate of Dubai specifically, what underpins this massive drive towards autonomous and sustainable mobility is the landmark Dubai Autonomous Transportation Strategy that aims to transform 25 per cent of the total transportation in the city to autonomous mode by 2030.

The strategy is expected to bring Dh22 billion in annual economic revenues by slashing transportation costs, carbon emissions and accidents, and boosting the productivity of individuals by saving hundreds of millions of hours that are otherwise wasted in conventional transportation. The strategy aims to reduce transportation costs by 44 per cent, leading to savings of up to Dh900 million a year, and reducing environmental pollution by 12 per cent.

While the main sectors identified for the application of this strategy are the metro, buses and taxis, several other forms of smart transportation technologies are also being developed and explored simultaneously. These include smart pods, autonomous vehicles, SkyWay, hyperloop, delivery drones, and flying taxis. Of these, SkyWay is already being tested at the Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park (SRTI Park).

These hi-tech, high-speed hanging sky pods can carry people and freight at speeds of between 150kph and 500kph once a full-length line is built and operational. With the capacity to transport up to 8,400 passengers per hour in each direction, SkyWay is also set to be built in Dubai with a total length of 15 kilometres with 21 stops along its route connecting connect buildings such as the Dubai International Financial Centre with downtown Dubai.

Transport at lightning speeds

Meanwhile, the DP World and Virgin Hyperloop partnership will soon establish hyperloop-enabled cargo systems that transport goods efficiently and at lightning speeds. The system will result in cargo transportation between Dubai and Abu Dhabi in a matter of minutes.

Another revolutionary mode of transportation that is being explored by the UAE is flying taxis. Volocopter, a German company researching and developing flying taxis has signed a deal with the Dubai RTA to launch its flying taxis in the city. Abu Dhabi Airports has also recently signed a memorandum of understanding with leading French firm Groupe ADP to explore the launch of a potential flying electric taxi service for passengers arriving at the Abu Dhabi International Airport.

In October this year, a flying car built by Chinese electronic vehicle maker Xpeng made its first public flight in the UAE. The two-seater eVTOL aircraft – lifted by eight propellers,¬ two at each corner of the vehicle – did an unmanned, 90-second test flight in Dubai in what was described by its manufacturer as an “important base for the next generation of flying cars.”

The emirate of Ajman has also made headway in smart mobility solutions by flagging off a self-driving shuttle bus on its maiden voyage along Ajman Corniche late last year. The region’s first 5G autonomous shuttle bus saw government accelerator AjmanX collaborate with Etisalat, which deployed the network and built a partner ecosystem for this project with technology companies to deliver a robust autonomous vehicle proposition. The bus will be used to ferry passengers to and from hotels located close to the Corniche.

Public-private collaboration

In what is seen as a great example of public-private collaboration in the field of smart mobility, Dubai’s RTA has joined hands with American auto giant General Motors to operate autonomous vehicles as taxi and e-hail services in Dubai.

As part of this deal, two Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles were recently deployed on Dubai roads to initiate the smart plan of an autonomous driving system by mapping the streets for creating digital maps. “Preparing digital maps is an essential step in the process of operating self-driving Cruise Origin vehicles, which will be deployed in limited numbers next year to offer taxi and e-Hail services,” said Mattar Al Tayer, Director-General, Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of the RTA in a statement.

“We have plans to increase the number of deployed vehicles gradually to reach up to 4,000 vehicles by 2030.” He said this initiative enhances Dubai’s pioneering role in self-driving transport and is an important step towards realising the Dubai Smart Self-Driving Transport Strategy. The process is a run-up to the launch of the service in 2023, which will make Dubai the first city in the world to commercially operate Cruise self-driving vehicles outside the US, where its operations are restricted to California. GM’s Cruise will be the exclusive provider of self-driving taxis and ride-hailing services through 2029.

While most of these solutions focus on public transportation of the future, personal mobility is also being given its due share of attention in the UAE. The government is doing everything it can to promote EV adoption across the nation. Apart from incentives to EV adopters such as free parking, exemption from tolls, and reduced registration fees, these measures also include replacing government agency cars with EVs and establishing one of the biggest charging station-to-vehicle-ratios in the world.

Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) has so far provided than 8,800 megawatt-hours of electricity to charge electric vehicles in Dubai since the launch of the EV Green Charger initiative in 2015. DEWA’s EV Green Charger network has expanded to over 325 charging stations across Dubai and has helped EV users travel approximately 58 million kilometres in eco-friendly vehicles, helping them cut 73 per cent of refuelling costs.

Over the past few years, the UAE has positioned itself as a hub for autonomous vehicle research and development not just regionally, but on a global scale. The country has made sure it is ahead of the game when it comes to the practical implementation of advanced mobility solutions in the coming decade and beyond and establish itself as a global leader in smart and sustainable mobility.