May brought a whirlwind of technology to the Middle East — most of it in the form of wheeled vehicles, kicked off by the UITP MENA Transport Congress in Dubai focused on mass transportation solutions for the region.
For many brands, the event was a chance not just to address transport markets that exist today in the Gulf, but to set the tone for the markets that may only arise in five or 10 years’ time, and to showcase their future technology.
Volvo emphasised the efficiencies of so-called bus-rapid transit (BRT) — a bus-based transport system that involves integration of buses with exclusive infrastructure, including stations. In the region, one of the first countries to pick up on this system will probably by Egypt, where the population density and congestion problems provide strong incentives for a better approach.
In the same month, Scania also unveiled plans to begin testing wireless charging systems for buses by placing magnetic coils beneath bus stops and equipping the vehicles with induction coils to recharge the battery within minutes. Hybrid electric buses are also being eyed in the Gulf, but improvements in battery technology will be required before such vehicles become commercially viable in the region — given the combined loads of the engines and AC units.
Needless to say, efficient buses are just one of the transport technologies with aspirational goals for the future. Another technology invited to present in Dubai by the RTA was the EZ10, an electric four-wheeled driverless vehicle being positioned as a ‘last mile’ transport solution to provide that critical link between mass transit systems and the final destination of passengers.
The EZ10 is programmed to follow virtual routes, but then autonomously navigates its environment using GPS, laser sensors and cameras and dynamically reacts to obstacles. It is easy to see how such technologies could become defining features of the Dubai Expo 2020 and its theme of ‘Creating the Future’.
Indeed, driverless technology is being pushed forward on all fronts, and this month Volvo Trucks also began giving live demonstrations of an autonomous system designed for its customers in the mining segment, where self-driving rigid dump trucks have now been ploughing up the earth for around a decade.
Before any of these technologies, systems and innovations find their way into widespread circulation in the Gulf region, regulatory hurdles will of course need to be overcome, but in more and more spheres the future is in sight.