Just like its Emirati neighbor, Saudi Arabia too is looking at bringing the future of transportation to its country, partly to be among the world leaders in transportation, and partly to diversify its economic income away from oil.
Prior to the onset of COVID-19, the Kingdom’s transport minister told Reuters in late 2019 that Saudi plans to launch several multi-billion dollar transport projects in 2020. This was certainly hampered by the ongoing pandemic, but the plans are still there, and Saudi will surely forge ahead with them once this global crisis is over.
So, in the meantime, here are some of the ways Saudi is investing in the future of travel.
Just like the UAE, Suadi Arabia too is pursuing the goal of bringing flying taxis to their country.
In February of this year, Jameel Investment Management Company (JIMCO), the investment arm of Abdul Latif Jameel, announced its participation in a Series C round of funding for California-based startup Joby Aviation, which raised an additional $590 million in capital. Joby Aviation is a US company developing and commercializing piloted all-electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.
Saudi Arabia is also joining forces with the rest of the GCC to create a unified railway system that connects the majority of the Gulf region, estimated to cost over $240 billion. The Gulf railway will extend over 2,117 km and once it becomes operational, it is estimated to generate 80,000 jobs. The speed of trains transporting passengers is estimated at 220 km per hour (kmph), and those transporting goods will be between 80-120 kmph.
The Gulf railway line is designed to start from Kuwait City, passing through the city of Dammam in Saudi Arabia, to Bahrain through the bridge that is to be built next to the King Fahd Causeway, and then, from the city of Dammam to Qatar through the Salwa port.
Just like the rest of the world, Saudi Arabia also has its ambitions on developing its own Hyperloop system, in cooperation with Virgin Hyperloop One (VHO), one of the largest firms operating in the field today.
The draw to the tech is clear: VHO One said the technology could reduce a journey from Riyadh to Jeddah to 76 minutes, compared with more than 10 hours currently, for example.
As to how it works, the BBC explains that the hyperloop concept involves a pressurised pod with a vehicle carrying passengers or cargo up to 10 times faster than current rail.
This February, Saudi and VHO announced that they will be conducting the world’s first national hyperloop study in attempt to bring the technology to the Kingdom. The cost for developing the Hyperloop in the Kingdom has not been revealed yet.
Earlier in 2019, VHO unveiled results of a study to create the Virgin Hyperloop One Center of Excellence (CoE), which, if approved, would lead to the creation of more than 124,000 high-tech local jobs, supporting the technology sector by incorporating advances in robotics and AI, and driving an estimated $4 billion increase in Saudi Arabia’s GDP by 2030.
While the exact cost of setting up the Hyperloop in the Kingdom remains undisclosed, it is worthy of note that each kilometer of the Hyperloop system in the Abu Dhabi is estimated to cost between $20-$40 million. Whether this figure will reflect the same price in Saudi Arabia remains to be seen.
Autonomous vehiclesSaudi, like many other nations, is also interested in the concept of autonomous vehicles, which will factor into its $500 billion megacity NEOM and $100 billion King Abdullah Economic City, both currently in varying stages of development.
A recent YouGov study showed that 61% of the Kingdom’s residents are enthusiastic towards driverless cars with 49% of research participants believing that driverless cars will help reduce traffic congestion on roads. Safety remained a concern, however, given the novelty of the new tech and the room for error.
Late last year, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology introduced self-driving shuttles on its campus in collaboration with two global leaders in autonomous mobility and advanced manufacturing: Local Motors by LM Industries and EasyMile, as well as the Saudi Public Transport Co. (SAPTCO).
These were made available for use starting this January.
Once COVID-19 subsides, expect to hear a lot more about these exciting new technologies as Saudi Arabia paves the way ahead for the future of transformation.