Sky Pods – The next transport innovation in Dubai
Imagine a way to transport between 20,000-50,000 passengers per hour, at speeds of 150kmph-200kmph, all while using area of land that is 100 times less than conventional means of the same capacity, power efficiency that is five times less than electric vehicles, and infrastructure requirements that are ten times less than traditional transit systems of the same capacity. And then imagine tiny pods ferrying people across the sky as a regular means of transport aka vibranium powered steel-cars that you witnessed in the blockbuster movie Black Panther or years ago in Minority Report.
Science fiction? Not for long. Dubai has done it yet again, on its way to embracing SkyPods as a way of futuristic transport, aligned with its vision to becoming the world’s smartest city!
The long and short of it
The ability to use vertical space, by building tall, has allowed modern cities to provide homes and commercial areas for large numbers of people. However, as the number of residents has grown, so have traffic jams and transport gridlocks. Some introspection makes it clear that this is an inevitable result of the options we currently use for mobility. Essentially, we are creating 3D living spaces, by building several storeys high, but our roads are 2D. The capacities of the two systems are inherently incompatible with each other. Metro train networks do address the issue somewhat, by moving more people at one time, on dedicated tracks that take some of the load off road networks. Intra-city train networks require considerable investments in underground and overhead pathways, as well as the track and rolling stock itself. While urban train networks are certainly a piece of the puzzle, they typically run at less than optimal capacity for much of the day and are overcrowded during rush hours. Therefore there has been room to innovate.
True to its innovation-led spirit, the Dubai administration has embarked on an ambitious series of initiatives to emerge as a future-ready and people-centric metropolis of tomorrow. A vision that establishes happiness, wellbeing and a technology-empowered society is at the core of these efforts. A well-integrated Smart City, with services, infrastructure and state of the art amenities, operating cohesively, is the goal. And rapid, reliable, effective mobility is one of the fundamental requirements to achieve these outcomes. Gemini Property Developers CEO Sunil Gomes believes that creating transport options, such as the futuristic Sky Pods, offers convenient and comfortable transit to large sections of the population while using resources more effectively. In his opinion, innovations such as this new solution also make a compelling case for themselves because they enhance capacities without competing too much for space, energy and investment.
Reimagining solutions with empowering technology
The proposal to create a network of Sky Pods in Dubai owes its origins to the RTA’s call for increased autonomous transport in the city. The Dubai Autonomous Transportation Strategy had laid out the goal of converting 25% of total transportation in Dubai into autonomous journeys by 2030. The strategy identified the integration of first and last mile connectivity, with existing public transport systems, as an area that could create a significant positive impact.
By connecting Dubai’s high-rise developments with inexpensive and lightweight tracks, on overpass routes, Sky Pods deliver a transport network with a minimal footprint and an automated control system. Effectively, they add a fast and reliable layer to transit systems, which utilises available vertical space to get people from one location to another.
The solutions developed by SkyWay Technologies include six variants that ferry passengers and two cargo vehicles. The capacities of passenger serving solutions range from being able to serve up to 72 individuals, modules can be combined into trains or disengaged in a matter of seconds, and speeds from 150 to 200 km/h have been achieved in testing. The Dubai administration is considering two models of the passenger vehicles initially. These are the ‘Unibike’ and the ‘Unicar’.
Each pod variant is named as per its passenger capacities, which can be said to mimic established forms of personal transport. Their autonomous nature results in being able to service a large number of occupants per hour, on the same physical network. In effect, such a system combines the cosiness and comfort of a privately owned vehicle, with the throughput of a mass transit system.
The Unibike is the lightweight and micro variant that can transport two people in one pod on suspended rails. This solution offers the convenience and performance of a privately owned electric vehicle with speeds of up to 150 km/hour. An optimally deployed system of these mini-pods can automate the transit of several relatively closely spaced or linked pods at high speed. It can transport up to 20,000 passengers per hour across horizontal gradients of up to 30 degrees. The Unicar is the larger module that is designed to cover distances of up to 200 kilometres. These units can serve as many as six passengers at the same top speed as the Unibike and on the same rail network. Like the Unibike, the Unicar pod can also be linked or used as several autonomous pods, and the same physical infrastructure can serve up to 50,000 passengers per hour.
Dubai’s dynamism and appetite for innovation will lead the way
His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s vision for Dubai seeks to harness technology as an enabler to a degree that other cities around the world have, as yet, only proposed and deliberated on. The inherent capacity that the Emirati metropolis has demonstrated in being an enthusiastic early adopter should see it deploy the Sky Pod solution effectively as well. Sunil believes that breakthroughs such as these are not only trendsetting; they are also sensible and essential. He points out that we live in a world in which packets of data are continually moving across worldwide networks almost instantaneously, at every given moment. The automation of these data packets did not just improve communication capacities somewhat; they exponentially and radically transformed the amount of data being exchanged. Not only that, the reliability of delivery instantly attained heights that even the best possible versions of legacy systems could not achieve. Sunil feels that these same core technological principles, applied to the movement of physical assets instead of data, will have a similarly transformative effect. A transport system that combines the speed, throughput and reliability of data networks with the comfort and privacy of personal transport is, according to Sunil, a dramatic improvement in the end user’s service experience. He believes that Dubai’s Sky Pod network will become a compelling example for similar solutions all around the world.