Dubai is looking at autonomous vehicles for shuttle buses to be used in certain communities as early as next year, officials said on Monday.
But although autonomous vehicles are expected to start testing for safety on some of the emirate's roads in January and experts discuss built-in charging plates to power the vehicles of the future, they said transitioning to the phase will prove challenging.
"Autonomous vehicles are the next revolution in transportation," said Ahmed Bahrozyan, chief executive of the Licencing Agency at the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA). "It started with being very apprehensive but in Dubai, we proved we prefer to take action, be positive and be ahead. If we want to become one of smartest cities in world, we definitely need to be at the forefront of cities ready to accept autonomous vehicles."
He said the technology was evolving, with billions of dollars being invested by manufacturers and operators. "The question is which city will keep up with the technology to have operations," he said. "We need to be ready as Dubai if we want to reach our targets."
The global smart city market is growing, projected from 622 billion dollars this year to 3.4 trillion dollars in a decade.
A new concept called Transit X has created the world's first 100 per cent-solar paneled, fully autonomous, on demand, point-to-point, non-stop public transportation system.
According to Paul Copping, chief innovation officer at Digital Greenwich in the UK, autonomous vehicles are a technological curve, similar to those we have already lived with. “It’s an exciting time to be in this industry,” he said. “We should change our spatial planning and rethink how we centre our communities to give us fast transit network, reduce people’s commute and improve resilience and agility of the last mile community.”
Greenwich, one of London’s 32 boroughs, operates as a smart city testbed.
The company has also done some regulatory work to support the RTA’s strategy.
“Dubai is the world leader in smart city and distribution of technology with some tight timelines,” Mr Copping said.
“A big decision is how much to contain the private transport network. It’s challenging but having 20 per cent of all transport to be public in Dubai seems sensible. Within 20 years, driving your car will be as comfortable as riding your horse and as sensible as doing it in the city.”
Experts said they hoped to one day see autonomous public transit and freight in Dubai.
“There’s going to be a move towards a more sustainable and integrated planning,” said Martin Tilman, director of transport planning at Aecom.
“We’re currently working on autonomous public transit in Dubai in segregation, away from highways. But the challenge will be when you start mixing autonomous with standard vehicles.”
He said there was a transition phase where they might have them running separately to other vehicles.
“There’s a whole set of planning exercises that needs to run around that,” he said.
“We need to think about powering those vehicles, charging station locations and highways with built-in charging plates. We’re all thinking of 20 to 30 years in the future and, at this stage, that transition stage is going to be the most problematic because you have to separate vehicles.”