Expo 2020 Dubai to drive the future of transport


Dubai - Many countries like France, Finland, Australia, Malaysia, the US and Spain will showcase such innovations.


Anjana Sankar

Published: Sat 4 Sep 2021, 6:43 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Sep 2021, 6:44 PM

Cutting-edge innovations and artificial intelligence are revolutionising the way people move from point A to Z. And at Expo 2020 Dubai, the world will see and experience the future of transport.

The Expo will be shaping and driving future mobility trends and help Dubai achieve its ambition of turning 25 per cent of its transportation into autonomous journeys, according to industry experts.

With mobility as one of the mega event’s three subthemes, Expo 2020 aims to bring countries together to build a more connected world — one where people, goods and services are able to move quickly and easily.

From carbon-free travel options to electric and hyperloop solutions and light-mobility bikes, innovations for efficient and sustainable transportation will be explored.

Many countries like France, Finland, Australia, Malaysia, the US and Spain will showcase such innovations.

But at the centre of the narrative is Alif, the mobility pavilion that will offer visitors a glimpse of how humanity’s movement has driven development throughout the years.

The pavilion features the world’s largest passenger lift that can transport 160-plus people at a time. A semi-underground 330-metre mobility track will take visitors on a mind-boggling journey through cutting-edge mobility devices.

With smart cities, robots and autonomous vehicles, Alif offers an insight into how mobility will evolve in the coming decades.

According to industry players, automation, electrification and connectivity are the biggest disruptions that will dictate mobility trends — and Expo 2020 will offer a global platform to make them happen.

Expect more electric vehicles on the road

The Expo will accelerate the tranformation of electric vehicles in the country and this will be one of the mega event’s biggest legacies, said Abdelrahman Sami, electric vehicle segment manager at Schneider Electric, which has installed hundreds of e-vehicle chargers across the UAE.

“Expo 2020 is going to be a huge leap forward for electric vehicles in the region. One of the key themes of Expo is mobility, and we’re going to see more infrastructure being built around the country, more electric vehicles on the road, and more electric vehicle brands and options in the country,” said Sami.

He said this change of perception is important if the UAE has to be a leader in the sustainable mobility space.

“Today, electric vehicles represent about two percent of total global vehicle sales. This will jump to 24 per cent by 2030. What excites me as a person and a company who works in this sector is how the Expo is going to win over new fans to electric vehicles, both cars and motorbikes,” he said.

The UAE will see more developers instal chargers for EVs, he added, as these will be a selling point for their properties.

“We’ll also see more businesses put up charging stations, too, to cater to the needs of their employees. The more infrastructure that comes up, the easier it will be to sell electric vehicles. And that will be the best legacy I can imagine for the Expo.”

On the same line, Alyssa Altman, senior vice-president for transportation and mobility at digital transformation consultancy Publicis Sapient, said Expo 2020 will provide a true ‘global platform’ for automakers to reposition themselves, as they emerge from the pandemic on a new path towards electrification and connectivity.

“Hard global CO2 emission targets are in full play, and automakers are currently doubling down to be in with a chance of reaching them. Subsequently, the next few years will see EVs (electric vehicles) take centre stage. With lofty global zero-emission goals, it will be without a doubt, the decade of the EV and Expo 2020 will be critical in that step change,” said Altman.

Ride a driverless car at Expo

As part of Dubai’s Smart City strategy, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has announced that by 2030, 25 per cent of all transportation trips in the emirate will be smart and driverless.

Moving towards this target, Dubai’s Roads and Transportation Authority (RTA) has started rolling out a raft of cutting-edge transportation modes.

For instance, the Dubai Metro is one of the largest self-driving public transportation systems in the world, carrying 346 million riders in 2020 alone.

Altman said that in the future of mobility, autonomous vehicles are an “obvious feature” and will undoubtedly play an integral part in the Expo’s Mobility District.

She said she is certain that there will be some headline-grabbing, innovative technology and new designs for autonomous vehicles at Expo 2020.

Visitors may even get the chance to experience what it could be like to be in a driverless car.

The rapid changes in the mobility sector are not lost on the auto industry and big players like General Motors (GM) are leading the space through their big EV push.

Luay Al Shurafa, president and managing director of GM Africa and Middle East, said the industry is moving into a new era of mobility — with technology and sustainability at its core.

With electric and autonomous driving, he said GM is reducing its carbon footprint and making roads safer and less congested.

“We have committed to bringing to market 30 EVs globally by 2025, many of which will come to the Middle East, and we have increased our global investment in our EV and AV future to $35 billion between 2020 and 2025,” said Shurafa.

He said they are also bringing autonomous transport to the region — in partnership with the RTA, which will launch self-driving taxis and ride-hailing services by 2023.

More vehicles will be ‘shared’ not owned

Soham Shah, CEO and co-founder of mobility start-up selfdrive.ae, said the future of mobility will also see the car ownership model change into MAAS (Mobility As A Service).

Different subscription-based services or an on-demand model of mobility could be offered, where the customer may not own a vehicle but request it on demand.

“We have already seen a start in the UAE but, moving forward, there will be higher acceptability and adoption of these service from the market,” said Shah.

“The future of mobility will by large be into two clusters. One is the new segment of transformation of IC engines to EVs, and from EVs to user experience, where technology would play a critical role in understanding the movement of people between cities and within cities. This will aid a cleaner, greener and more connected automation in the mobility space and will serve as a massive potential where customers can be offered precise target-oriented services for their mobility requirement,” he said.

Balalaa said the sharing economy is also already a part of the mobility landscape, from Uber to car-sharing and scooter-sharing.

“It is becoming less important for younger people to own vehicles and these trends will only accelerate when autonomous vehicles become the standard and the price of the driver is removed from sharing,” said the Masdar official.

Abdulla Balalaa, executive director of Masdar City, said the future of transportation is autonomous, electric, and shared. And Masdar City has been demonstrating this with a strategy based on a hierarchy that puts pedestrians first and focuses on sustainable public transportation.

“Over the years, Masdar City has introduced several technologies that support its mission, both as commercial and pilot projects. These include the introduction of Mena’s first autonomous shuttle service, NAVYA (2018); the first electric eco-bus in the region; and the world’s first Personal Rapid Transport System (PRT, 2010) which has carried more than two million passengers to date,” said Balalaa.

“Globally, replacing gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles with electric vehicles is one of the most important steps toward a sustainable future,” he added.

Human-centric cities take shape

While EVs and AVs are dictating the mobility landscape, experts say human-centric smart cities that cater to the evolving needs of people will also influence how the future modes of transportation are designed.

John Gillespie, principal engineer (transport planning and future ready lead) at WSP Middle East, said Expo 2020 is already influencing mobility trends through developments such as the extension of the Dubai Metro towards Route 2020.

“The transportation sector has undergone a number of poignant shifts in recent years, many of which have been underpinned by the public and private sectors’ ability to design cities and infrastructure that cater to the evolving needs of end users. This has resulted in some pivotal trends emerging as urban designers and smart city planners rethink the way our transport mix can operate,” said Gillespie.

He pointed out examples like the ExpoRider bus service that will drive from many places in the city directly to the event site and deter the use of private cars.

“So, I think this is certainly a trend we are starting to see in the region, especially as people realise that we need to design to drive end users towards using alternative means of transportation rather than relying on private vehicles.”

As many regional geographies in the Middle East are beginning to think about human-centric transportation, Gillespie said future mobility trends are no longer the sole responsibility of transport planners.

There has become a need to elicit design innovations from a holistic mix of experts, ranging from urban planners and smart city planners to everyone in between.

Futuristic transport you shouldn’t miss at Expo

>Mobility pavilion’s largest lift: This passenger lift can carry 160-plus passengers at a time

>Spanish pavilion’s hyperloop carriage: Known as Z01, the six-metre carriage will offer a glimpse into the future of high-speed travelling

>France pavilion’s airship: French company Flying Whales will showcase a trailblazing airship that can transport up to 60 metric tonnes of cargo at altitudes close to 3,000 metres.

>US pavilion’s SpaceX rocket: A 43-metre-tall SpaceX rocket model will be on display

>Australian pavilion’s space technology: The country will showcase 60,000 years of Australian culture and its history of space technology


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