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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Davos 2018: Transport revolution will come earlier in countries such as the UAE

A hyperloop could not have been built 10 years ago because software systems were not adaptable

The UAE and wider Middle East is well placed to take advantage of disruptive technology such as hyperloop trasportation. Courtesy Hyperloop One
The UAE and wider Middle East is well placed to take advantage of disruptive technology such as hyperloop trasportation. Courtesy Hyperloop One

I work at Virgin Hyperloop One, known for its mechanical and electrical engineers designing an autonomous and high frequency system of passenger and freight pods moving at up to 1080km/h through low-pressure tubes.

Designing that reliably and safely is a mechanical and hardware challenge. It is also, surprisingly to some, a software challenge. You could not have built a hyperloop 10 years ago because you would not have yet had the embedded software systems, sensors and processing of today.

Digital transformation is going to hit the transportation industry over the next 10 to 20 years. Ours is just one of many companies changing transportation through automation, computation fluid dynamics, software-defined design, 3D printing and high-speed data analytics. As much progress as the industry has made, there is still a lot of catching up to do. Transport, travel and logistics industry is only 27 per cent digitised, according to McKinsey & Co, compared to 39 per cent for the media and entertainment business and 44 per cent for telecom.

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One of the exciting things about today’s transportation revolution is the opportunity to establish new industrial supply chains and services networks around the world. A regional hyperloop network could unlock billions of dollars in incremental economic growth, establish real exportable expertise, completely transform supply chains across the Middle East and create thousands of jobs in manufacturing, services, finance, operations and education.

But it will take require real commitment from both the public and private sectors. Just as many do not realise that the transportation revolution rests on digital innovation, many do not realise that governments can, and should, play a critical role in spurring this revolution. Many in the business community are wrong to dismiss the innovative power of governments or of innovative, long-term visionary governments working alongside disruptive companies.

In my role, I have met with forward-thinking governments around the world, and none are more innovative as those in the Middle East. Take Dubai as an example. As leaders in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Dubai and the UAE are also leading digital change across many fronts and several business sectors. MasterCard’s 2017 Digital Evolution Index placed Dubai among the world’s “standout digital economies” along with Singapore, the UK, New Zealand, Estonia, Hong Kong and Japan. Dubai has abundant examples in advanced mobility and logistics, which have been identified as strategic sectors. Dubai is targeting 5 million autonomous vehicle journeys by 2030 and is updating its taxi fleet with 50 Teslas. The Dubai Metro is already the largest autonomous train route in the world. DP World, the Dubai-based ports operator (and a large investor in our company), runs some of the most innovative and automated container terminals in the world.

In September, Dubai launched the maiden flight of a two seater drone “air taxi” that will ultimately offer 30-minute flights. Dubai also plans to be the first Blockchain powered government in the world by 2020, using distributed digital ledger technology to streamline services for business and citizens. Dubai International Airport is banking on biometrics to speed up its security screening. Next year it will deploy “virtual aquariums” lined with giant LED screens and facial recognition cameras. Air travellers will be asked to walk through the tunnel-shaped portal, and as they gaze all around at the screens, they will deliver a high-quality facial and iris print as they pass.

The airport is also experimenting with autonomous rolling carry-on caddies shaped like the BB-8 droid in the recent Star Wars movie. That kind of innovative thinking — wherever it is in the world — will attract private innovation and the leading thinkers in the world. Virgin Hyperloop One has been in an active partnership with many different entities within Dubai, all of which have the same vision and innovative spirit. We have worked with the Roads and Transport Authority, which sponsored our company in an accelerator organised by the ministry focused on the future. DP World is an active investor and partner.

A hyperloop in Dubai could be the first leg of a GCC-wide 1080-kph Hyperloop One network for both people and freight. One often hears that the future is already here — it is just not equally distributed. The same will be true of the transportation changes in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The future will come earlier to some places, where governments foster an environment for human capital to thrive and experiment. And then the future will radiate out from those places and connect the rest of the world.

Marvin Ammori is general counsel at Hyperloop One

This article has been provided exclusively to The National by the World Economic Forum

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