Jump into the world’s travel tech sandboxes

Jump into the world’s travel tech sandboxes
Sherry Zameer, Senior Vice President of Internet of Things solutions for the CIS, Middle East and Africa, Gemalto.
Published: 21 April 2019 - 4:34 a.m.

From self-flying aerial taxis to a hyperloop promising to make the Dubai to Abu Dhabi commute a breeze, the UAE is establishing itself as a frontrunner when it comes to implementing the latest travel technology.

Today, we're still on the journey to the promise land of speedy travel without passports and papers. The next couple years will be an exciting time for travel tech as advancements made in the past decade begin to scale up and make network-wide impacts. Below we'll explore a few of those advancements and the new experiences travelers should expect (or perhaps attempt) to add to their adventures.

While many cities, mobility companies, automakers and even food delivery giants are running limited tests of autonomous vehicles on public roads, the truth is that most of those self-driving cars are still being chaperoned through their daily drives by "safety engineers." Where there are no safety drivers, self-driving tests are limited to small, easily definable regions. Nobody can yet say with confidence how AVs will be deployed at scale and within open context.

What we can say with certainty, however, is that AVs can work when given dedicated space and could be deployed to make community transport navigation more convenient and environmentally friendly.

In December, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) began testing an electric driverless taxi at a residential area in Dubai Silicon Oasis. Not yet available for public use, the UAE's first autonomous taxi can run at a speed of up to 35km per hour, accommodate four people, including a professional driver who can take over the vehicle in an emergency. Dubai targets 25 per cent of all journeys to be self-driving by 2030, a goal set after Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, launched the Dubai Smart Self-Driving vision in 2016.

Whether it's an AV, a relative or car service dropping travelers off at terminal doors, getting through airports is consistently ranked as one of the top stressors for travelers along with money and safety. Thankfully, biometric security technology is having the rare effect of making airports more secure while also making airport processes one less thing to worry about.

The latest systems use automated document readers to check the electronic signatures embedded in authentic, government-issued IDs. Then, facial recognition is used to compare the document photo to the actual person. These steps let the system simply answer "yes" or "no" to the question "does this traveler match their ID, is it authentic and were they expected to travel today?"

Lines at baggage check can be shortened by letting travelers check in via facial recognition, retrieve boarding documents and tag their bags on their own.

International travelers might enjoy faster, simpler boarding with facial recognition at Dubai International Airport, where all international travelers will be screened with facial recognition. All biometric data will be stored with the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigner Affairs (GDRFA) in compliance with GDPR rules and will be used across the airport for identification purposes.

The face recognition technology, which uses biometric technology, a mix of facial and iris recognition is being tested in DXB's Terminal 3 and authorities have said the system will replace human immigration officers by 2020.

Believe it or not, rental car companies may soon offer travelers the easiest access to the latest travel technology. In Dubai, ekar, the pay per minute carshare gives drivers on-demand access to drive cars by the minute, hour or the day in cities, airports, and campuses across the Gulf region. As long as they are 21 years old, have a valid credit car and a valid home country driver's license which is at least months old in good standing, drivers can access the ekar vehicle. Once they have pictures of their driver's license, passport, and visa stamp uploaded, they can then use the ekar car rental app to unlock the ekar as needed.

Today, travelers can at least expect Bluetooth connectivity, even in budget options, but rental companies are quickly expanding their connected service offerings. As larger infotainment systems trickle down to the smaller models that become rental companies' budget options, new connected services like in-car payments for parking, tolls, fuel or even your morning coffee will be available for the average traveler.

Technology creature comforts are expanding outside the cockpit, too. To compete with rideshare services, rental car companies are moving more of the rental process to mobile platforms and are even starting to deliver car keys to driver's phones. And while it's still early days for autonomous cars, rental companies' expertise in fleet management could make them an integral part of new mobility's future. For many people it's quite likely the first driverless car they ride in will be dispatched (or at least cleaned) by one of today's rental giants.

The world's first commercial hyperloop is set to open in Abu Dhabi in 2020, and promises to zip passengers between the two emirates at airplane speeds. The first 10km stretch will be ready by 2020 and, when complete, the Hyperloop will cut travel time between Dubai and Abu Dhabi to 12 minutes. Last year, the first Hyperloop passenger pods, promising to revolutionise the way we live, have been unveiled at in Jerez, Spain. At 32 metres in length and weighing five tonnes, QuinteroOne is the first passenger capsule designed and built to carry passengers at the speed of sound and will embark on its first commercial operations running in Abu Dhabi and China this year.


Emirates linked by speed trains and flying cars are on the horizon but it is will be a few years yet before travelers will enjoy the life changing technologies. For now, we can focus on enjoying the journey and exploring the live testing of technologies that empower personal mobility and keep us all moving safely to our destinations.

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