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The future of transportation: how smart mobility will shape cities of the future

10 February 2014


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HE Eng. Mattar Al Tayer, Chairman of the Board and Executive Director of RTA, Dubai (UAE), and Brad Templeton, Faculty member, Singularity University (US) discussed current and future trends in transportation at the second session on Day 1 of The Government Summit 2014.

The RTA’s Al Tayer noted that infrastructure development doesn’t only save time and money, but something much more precious – life. “The cost of traffic accidents in Dubai has decreased from 22 out of 100,000 in 2005 to 6 out of 100,000 today,” HE Al Tayer said.
“The cost of traffic accidents in Dubai was Dh4 billion in 2005, but this is now significantly reduced thanks to our new infrastructures. And to attain this means we had to change some laws,” HE explained.

On his part, Singularity University’s Brad Templeton, noted that saving lives is the most important aspect of innovation in transportation. “Let’s face it. We, human beings, are not safe drivers. Every year, there are 1.2 million car accidents worldwide. In the US, 32,000 people die of car accidents. The UAE has one of the worst records per capita. The UAE’s record of car fatalities per capita is 36 times worse than that of the US’. Car accidents is largest cause of children fatalities worldwide and in the UAE. In the US, the cost of traffic accidents is $23 billion or 2.5 per cent of GDP,” he noted.

Al Tayer added that “the future of smart cities relies on smart transportation. The key here is the wellbeing and happiness of the people, who need efficient services, which is a requirement to achieve a successful global city.”

Templeton added all major carmakers in the world were aiming to eliminate human error in driving by introducing driver-less cars. “All car manufacturers around the world, including Audi, Tesla, Volvo, Nissan, Mercedes and BMW, are now working on developing cars that drive by themselves. Most of them will be available in the next few years while some of them are available now,” said Templeton.

He added that while cost may be a barrier to the pervasiveness of driverless technology today, the cost is bound to come down in the future. “They are currently big and expensive today, but they will be small and cheap in the future,” he noted. “This is one of the grandest projects in the world and it is happening now,” he said.

Al Tayer told the audience that the International Association of Public Transport has a plan to double the collective public transportation in 2025 and apply new technologies in public and private projects.

“Transportation is always linked to the economy. Dubai is taking innovation and smart cities seriously. Dubai has earmarked €100 million for innovation purposes only. In line with this, RTA has launched 150 e-services, 23 of them through smartphones,” HE noted.

The driverless car has four big consequences in the cities of tomorrow, said Templeton.
One, the car can drives itself; two, the car can deliver itself; Three, the car can refuel and recharge; and lastly, the car can park or store itself.

This, in turn, will have an impact on a number of areas, most importantly safety and efficiency, besides opening a host of other applications that can be achieved through a dricverless vehicle.

“Safety (saving lives) and efficiency are the natural results for this,” he said, adding that “traffic accident is a problem for all countries and a solution is coming – driverless cars. About 40% of traffic accidents are caused by drink driving and this will be solved by robots because they don’t drink. Around 80% of traffic accidents are due to not looking, and this will be addressed because robots are not distracted, and they will also be using 360-degree cameras,” Templetoin elaborated.

“As you can see now, Google cars are moving in ordinary roads for over 1 million km, driverless, stopping over any traffic signs, yielding to pedestrians walking or jogging in the streets, and looking the roads with 360-degree vision,” Templeton said.

The Government Summit 2014 indeed had a Google car on display at the premises in Mina Al Salam Hotel in Dubai.

In terms of efficiency, Templeton noted that around 60% of the land area in the US accounts for car use – parking, etc.

“A quarter of total energy in the US is used for personal transportation; a quarter of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are produced by current transportation systems; and every year, we travel a total of 1.7 light years,” he said.

“Currently the question we ask ourselves is what car do I need for myself? That is depending on our geographical location. In the future, we should be able to ask the question, what do I need for today’s trip? If it is short trip then we should be able to use a more efficient car. In the future, a car can deliver itself to that person who needs that car. This way, efficiency can be attained in personal transportation, with even lesser energy consumed compared to buses or trains. The fact that the car can refuel and recharge itself means a 200 million tonnes of GHG emissions reduction,” he said.

HE Matar Al Tayer revealed the steps that Dubai and the UAE in general are taking to achieve sustainability in terms of transportation needs of the coujtry are concerned.
“We have always encouraged people to use public transportation in Dubai. We have done so by putting in place 5-star quality transportation systems as alternatives to private transport and, in addition to that, we have decided to increase the cost of parking, we introduced Salik traffic toll systems and we are also looking at legislations to promote the use of public transport,” he noted.

“In Dubai, approximately one car is used by two persons only. We are looking at introducing some steps to limit the use of cars. In other countries, when the use of cars increase by 6 to 7%, parliaments start to discuss this issue,” he said.

He went on to elaborate the steps the RTA has taken to encourage the take-up of public transportation, and how technology is facilitating it. “We have introduced a unified card – the NOL card – for bus, metro and later on for taxis. Currently, WiFis are available in the Dubai Metro and this will soon be available in taxis. The reason for this is we want to provide comfort,” he said.

“We will also be launching a taxi at your help card, which will serve families with special needs,” Al Tayer said.

Templeton added: “Contrary to previous beliefs that government would stay away from this development on the grounds that it is not safe, most governments now are leading the way or wanting to know how they can lead the way. How to enable this technology. Going forward, people will lobby for it. But there are also some challenges such as:
“Question on freedom – will there be a big battle to retain freedom?”

Then, he said, people do not like to be killed by robots although there are likely more people that will be killed by human drivers – which is the fear of machines.
“Robots, like humans, are not perfect. There will be accidents but there will be far less people hurt compared to the number of accidents caused by drivers today,” Templeton said.
“Will this trend move at the speed of industrial revolution, as far as car is concerned, or the speed of iPhone development?,” he asked. “I think it will be somewhere in the middle,” he answered his own question.

“Another remarkable consequence is that these cars can also be used for cargos, delivering products bought from Amazon, in a cheap and speedy way,” Templeton said.