Roger Cruickshank

Roger Cruickshank

Middle East & Africa

Roger has more than 20 years’ experience in transport planning, working on major strategic and masterplanning schemes in the UK, South East Asia and the Middle East. Currently based in Dubai, he looks after Atkins’ strategic transport planning group, with projects across the Middle East and beyond.

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Only last week the headline ‘look no hands’ was pasted across a Dubai newspaper, confirming that a car had driven the 100 km journey itself between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  Maybe the introduction of mainstream driverless cars isn’t too far off after all.  Dubai actually already has the longest Connected and Autonomous vehicle (CAV), in the form of its Metro, which has been running with ‘no hands’ since 2009.  And those in the taxi business might say that the ability to order and direct a vehicle  is a proxy CAV; the International Road Transport Union (IRU)  recently revealed that their UpTop scheme (bringing global taxi apps onto one platform) has attracted more than double the number of vehicles using Uber.

The notion of driverless is not new: besides several metros around the world, driverless lifts and elevators have been around for decades, as has the autopilot button that gets pressed when we fly across the globe. We’ve in fact been using driverless transport for years with a strong safety record. 

But CAVs (and their offshoots) are likely to have a greater impact than the first jet airliners of the early 1960s.  At Atkins, a design, engineering and project management consultancy, we consider that this new means of travel and the data generated by its introduction, will touch every part of the built environment - a real eye opener.  We are ourselves leading the UK development of an independent test site for, and a market leading capability in, autonomous vehicles, investigating the legal and insurance aspects of driverless cars and exploring how the public react to such vehicles. The programme will help to deepen our understanding of the impact on road users and wider society and open up new opportunities for our economy and society.

We also have teams of people around the world looking into connecting people, places and services and reimagining infrastructure across all transport modes, enabled by data, technology and innovative ideas. Intelligent mobility (iM) looks into new ways of travelling that will transform people's journeys and the movement of goods, with efficiency, sustainability and safety of our transport systems and cities worldwide paramount.

In America, our colleagues are seeing some real challenges around the need for a consistent approach to CAV introduction.  At the moment US Federal law is somewhat ambivalent on CAV roll out, principles have been set at a national level – make it safe, protect data -  yet it is leaving individual states to figure out the real details with regards to the planning, design and the implementation of CAVs into urban transport systems.  Such detail will vary from state to state, possibly confusing motorists, manufacturers and operators alike.  However it is exciting to know that most states are reviewing their existing transport infrastructure inventories, with a view embracing the change and the hope of controlling and reprioritising infrastructure spend in parallel. This in part of course is due to the Governance system that prevails in the US.  The UK’s more inclusive approach on CAVs is an exemplar, bringing public and private entities feeding off a wealth of ideas through a broad institutional framework.

What about the all that extra free time we will now have inside the car, as we will be relieved from manhandling the steering wheel?   It is possible that people might starting literally living in their cars, the impacts of which could be far ranging for city planning both in terms of land development/housing stock as well as the services required to manage these nomadic drivers  - (could this really happen?)  This just highlights that it isn’t only the technology but a major social change that is likely to take place.  So I offer are we ‘giving up control’ and are we also giving up on the community as we sit in our individual pods with internet and all else on tap?

For me personally, I can’t wait to be motoring down a fogbound expressway, knowing that we are all travelling at the same safe speed, and arriving at work much less agitated having had extra time to prepare for that critical meeting: the one proviso being that there is sufficient resilience/security in the system to indeed ensure that traffic is controlled effectively and safely. 


This article first appeared on IoT Tech News.

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When Masdar took on the idea of driverless pods for its zero carbon city in Abu Dhabi, it still seemed closer to the cartoon world of The Jetsons than something that would be hitting our streets anytime soon.

Technology moves at an incredible pace, however, and it is rapidly catching up to make the idea of driverless vehicles a reality. Major automotive manufacturers are now investing serious money to keep at the head of the herd (or at least to be in the race!), while tech giant Google and taxi-hailing app Uber are blazing their own trails.

The Middle East, where gas-guzzling 4x4s are still the vehicle of choice among many, seems unlikely territory for what we now call Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) to take off. There are, however, some compelling reasons to suggest the region could be among the early adopters.

First among these is the fact that some environments are particularly well suited to CAVs. Yes, eventually we’re going to see driverless vehicles on our public roads and highways but in the meantime, one of the most practical applications for them could be in and around major airports.

The traffic within airports is closely monitored, regulated and predictable. What’s more, there’s a surprising amount of it; just think of all the servicing needs for fuel, maintenance, catering, baggage, staff and so on – this is an ideal environment for CAVs. Inside terminals too, they could be applied for basic small-scale transportation needs.

The UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are all home to, or in the process of developing, among the largest and most advanced airports in the world. It’s not difficult, therefore, to see why the Middle East could be at the forefront of investing in CAV technologies.

The region’s property developers are also sure to see the value of CAVs for the typical semi-closed and controlled private developments which are prevalent. The CAV concept offers an attractive, futuristic selling point, but more importantly it has the potential to reduce traffic impact to provide a better, cleaner and safer living environment. It may also allow infrastructure (and associated cost) to be reduced in size, so the benefits are impressive.

I’ve just mentioned the value of improved safety that driverless vehicles offer, and longer term this is likely to be a key reason for bringing CAVs onto public roads in the region. Human error is commonly cited to be responsible for between 80-90% of road accidents. What easier way, then, to slash the number of crashes than by simply taking humans out of the equation?

This would go hand in hand with the ambitions of regional governments to be at the forefront of creating smarter, more resilient and sustainable cities of the future. Integration of state-of-the-art driverless vehicles is part of this vision and will happen.

Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has already commissioned studies into not only CAVs, but electric vehicles as well, as part of its wider smart city agenda. Expo 2020 could be an ideal platform for sharing ideas and inspiration with the rest of the world – let’s not forget that Dubai is already a leader in adopting driverless technology thanks to its metro, which was designed to be driverless from the outset.

The region will, of course, face many of the same barriers and challenges to CAV deployment as others. Governments will need to review and adapt public policies and regulations, change traffic laws and set clear technical standards. Of key importance will be the need to bring different stakeholders together to work collaboratively towards the same goals.

So while embracing CAVs in the Middle East is not without its challenges – including the need to encourage people to park up their beloved V8s – I wouldn’t bet against cities like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha or Riyadh being among the first to take the technology mainstream. And in the meantime, Masdar’s early foray into driverless pods looks to have been impressively prescient.

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The Middle East has seen a quantum leap in transportation in the last decade and, inevitably, technology is really pushing this advance.

The region is still in a development phase, which puts us in the fantastic position of not being encumbered with legacy infrastructure and systems. There’s also much less bureaucracy around project definition and development – so new projects and programmes can go straight from Royal Decree to delivery.

Of course, that’s not always a positive thing and there’s a lot to be said for the careful planning and legal processes of advanced economies. However, technology moves at a startling pace and the Middle East is better placed than most parts of the world to be an early adopter of new systems.

Transport authorities in the UAE and Qatar, in particular, are making technology and smart systems a key component of their investment plans. They have the funding and platforms to be able to buy off the shelf solutions which present limited risk and flexibility for development.

The evidence of behavioural change and adaptation to transport innovations is very positive. Those who doubted the potential of Dubai Metro (the longest automated mass transit system in the world) to attract users will be eating humble pie for a many years. Its success has led to similar technologically advanced networks being proposed and planned across the region, and the impact on cities like Doha and Riyadh will be huge.

The Gulf states have among the highest levels of mobile phone penetration in the world and apps like Uber have enjoyed tremendous success. Transport authorities are also capitalising on this with their smart systems, making it easier to order taxis, catch a bus or work out your best route from A to B.

There’s also a big push in the region to encourage active, healthy lifestyles and technology is making the roads safer for vulnerable users such as cyclists, although there’s a long way to catch up with cities like London or Paris, not to mention Copenhagen. We’re working closely with government clients in the region at the moment to understand the full implications of taking on new systems, such as the physical changes needed for the roads infrastructure.

The creation of cycle friendly environments could typically entail layout changes to traffic light junctions, where sensors will detect cyclists and allow them a head start before cars get the green light. Intelligent sensors can also detect when pedestrians are still crossing a road to ensure traffic lights don’t change too early.

So it’s an exciting time for all modes of transportation in the Middle East. There are challenges – there’s little incentive for private sector investment, while cheap fuel means people will continue to be married to their 4x4s. However, the region is a melting pot, with 200 nationalities and a spirit for getting things done, so I’m expecting to see it keep forging ahead and improving how we get around.

For more information on MaaS, you can download a new white paper, Journeys of the Future, written by the UK Transportation’s intelligent mobility team at Atkins here.

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