Futuristic Hollywood blockbusters, like Star Wars, Minority Report, and the Back to the Future movie franchise, love flying cars. In popular culture, visions of what the future holds always feature transportation above our heads traveling at warp speed. On screen, we are still on planet Earth. But it’s a 100 years in the future and everyone travels galactic lengths in minutes. It’s breathtaking cinematography, and rather far-fetched.
Or is it? Last week the Roads and Transportation Authority of Dubai announced the launch of the world’s first driverless flying car, Ehang 184. It can hold one passenger and has preset routes selected from a touchscreen, and pilots itself. These Chinese-engineered flying cars are a mere 4 months away and will start transporting Dubai residents in July 2017.
But that’s not all. Hyperloop One, the brainchild of Silicon Valley titan and inventor Elon Musk, has been busy building and testing the world’s first Hyperloop transport link between Dubai and the capital city of Abu Dhabi. The levitating pods will travel at airline speeds to reduce travel time from 1.5 hours to as little as 12 minutes. Hyperloop One is expected to begin operations in 2020, the same year Dubai hosts the World Expo.
In the meantime, residents are up and running with the Dubai Now smart phone app. With a few swipes, I am able to pay my cellphone, Internet and utility bills, hail a cab, recharge my Dubai Metro card, track upcoming flight information and pay traffic fines, search for pharmacies, hospitals, and schools. It is, without a doubt, the most convenient mobile app I have used for day-to-day living.
It’s an exciting time to be alive. Cities like Dubai, Singapore, and Barcelona are racing to realise ambitious plans to integrate information and communications technology in their infrastructure and services and become smart cities.
What is a smart city? According to The Pew Charitables Trusts, a smart city uses digital technology to improve community life. The general goal is to “collect immediate data on everything from traffic patterns to home water use, analyze it, and use that information to make the city work better.” It’s all happening now, and it’s going to transform the way we live and interact with government in the 21st century.
The goal is sustainability, efficiency, and in the case of Dubai, happiness – of expats, locals and visitors alike. It is the future, and Dubai has entered the race to become the world’s first fully operational smart city.