Skip to main content

This story features in Unearthed: The cities of the future

After years of sci-fi promise, are some of the AI guided revolutions in autonomous transport beginning to mature into real services? We take a look at some of the futuristic transport services that are being attempted around the world.


Rising above the traffic
In September last year, Dubai held the first full tests of its autonomous flying taxi service. The two-seaters, made by German aerospace company Volocopter, have 18 rotors and nine batteries, and are meant to cruise at around 30mph for 30 minutes at roughly 1000ft. The city is aiming for a fully operational service by 2022.

Paris by robot
Last January autonomous shuttles began trundling back and forth across the Charles de Gaulle bridge in Paris, taking travellers over the Seine between the Gare d’Austerlitz and Gare de Lyon. The trial saw the electric GPS-guided six-seater vehicles run successfully for three months in a dedicated bus lane. No news yet on next steps, though feedback from passengers seems to indicate they found the buses a little slow.

Driverless cars get real
When you read about self-driving taxis, the word ‘trial’ usually crops up fairly quickly (associated with ongoing safety concerns to be ironed out). Not so with Waymo. It has been offering a full, for-real, self-driving taxi service to a select group of the public in Phoenix, Arizona since the
end of 2018. Waymo (which sits within Google’s Alphabet umbrella of companies) has been testing its AI guided taxis in Phoenix since October 2017. At Google’s I/O conference in May 2018, Waymo CEO John Krafcik declared that the cars were now ready for public use after driving more than 6 million miles on the road (and 5 billion miles in simulation).

The plan is that passengers will use a Waymo app to call an autonomous vehicle, and have it turn up with no driver at the wheel. That’s an important step, and a leap ahead of the competition, as human safety drivers are still a common requirement in many self-driving taxis. Why Phoenix? Consistently sunny weather, wide clear roads and a relatively easy-going regulatory environment have made it a favourite for robot cabbies learning the ropes.

Smart data for travellers
The Kansas Smart Streetcar Corridor is a backbone of sensors, screens, wi-fi access and LED streetlights running through the city. It can respond directly to public movement and dole out information accordingly. The sensors collect data from traffic signals, the sidewalk and even water pipes to monitor how traffic is flowing, then relay it to kiosks along the two-mile tramcar route. Kansas citizens use it to update their journeys as necessary and stay in touch with what else is happening in the city. The streetcar is free to travel and takes visitors around the key sites of downtown Kansas.

When the state steps in
Last year Moscow secured top spot as Europe’s most congested city (London was second). The dubious accolade throws even more emphasis on Moscow’s State Programme for Transport Development – a scheme to make its public transport system one of the smartest and most data driven in the world. Since 2011 the programme’s Intelligent Transport System has linked 2,000 video cameras, 3,700 road detectors and 6,000 traffic lights to improve traffic flow. Meanwhile a huge spend on the metro fleet has added thousands of train cars and a high-tech ticketing system where more than 85 percent of journeys are made using transport cards. Is it working? Earlier this year Deputy Mayor for Transport, Maksim Liksutov, declared that Muscovites were now making 2.8 billion full fare trips a year against the 1.9 billion when the program began. And while Moscow’s congestion was still severe, average speed in the city had gone up by 13%.

Are you interested in the technology and innovation revolutionising the Civil Engineering and Environmental industries? Download your own copy of the Seequent Unearthed report. This volume covers topics from sustainability, living and working underground, to where our waste, cars and utilities are going.