Smart mobility set to redefine transport in the GCC

Saudi Arabia is transforming its technology landscape, aiming to become the regional hub for innovation and building an ecosystem where the tools of tomorrow are conceptualized and created.

22 JANUARY 2021


As global governments and technology experts prepare to converge on Riyadh for LEAP 2021, the city has become known as one of the few in the Middle East that is transforming its technology landscape and adopting smart mobility solutions, which will have massive impact on the economy, environment and ultimately on society.

Smart mobility refers to an intelligent transport and mobility network. It encompasses traditional motor vehicles, electric vehicles, and public transportation systems, but also completely new modes of transportation like on-demand ride sharing services (Uber and Careem) and carsharing programs. Concerns around pollution, traffic congestion, loss of money have all made this idea gain traction in recent years all over the globe.

The momentum around smart mobility solutions and Smart Cities is undeniable, which is why smart mobility solutions will be a major highlight at LEAP 2021.




Happening in early 2021, the Smart City Conference will host the Smart City Orbital Talks, where use cases and application of smart mobility solutions and Smart City technology will be showcased. Topics will include: ‘Smart City 1-0-1 – Paving the way to building sustainable Smart Cities’, ‘How to benefit from AI in city management and urban planning’, ‘Innovative parking as a key to unlocking smarter cities: Smart technologies combatting congestion and improving mobility’, ‘The Future is Smart Mobility – Implementation of cutting-edge smart transportation trend’, ‘Learning from Canada: Canada’s Smart City Experience’, ‘Best practices, guidelines and methodologies for development of Smart Cities’, ‘Creating a greener future through development of a Smart City based upon people and not technology’ and ‘Enabling Smart City development with full fibre and 5G’.

Eng. Nawaf Alhoshan, Deputy Minister for Technology Development at the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, says: “One of the major cornerstones of LEAP 2021 is to help Saudi citizens to become the tech engineers, developers, programmers and scientists of the future. The event is aiming to not only to transfer knowledge, but to inspire the youth to become entrepreneurs and establish their own tech-powered businesses in the smart mobility solutions space.”




Use cases

Across the region, authorities are pouring investment into smart mobility projects and Smart Cities to enhance government efficiency and citizen services, which are tied to digital transformation initiatives such as Saudi Vision 2030, Dubai Smart City, UAE Vision 202, Oman Vision 2020 and New Kuwait Vision 2035.

NEOM, the megacity project in Saudi Arabia, has unveiled plans to develop the world’s most user-centric, environmentally friendly and technologically advanced smart mobility ecosystem. NEOM will prioritize active, autonomous, electric, shared and smart mobility solutions. Similarly, Riyadh has invested in a multibillion-dollar public transit project with driverless trains, as well as a multimillion-dollar, Artificial Intelligence-based adaptive signaling project.




Deployed by TransCore, the system will manage traffic signal operations at 350 of Riyadh’s busiest intersections. The system automatically adjusts traffic signal timing in response to real-time traffic conditions, representing a significant upgrade over the existing fixed-time system.

Orange Business Services is working on a number of major Smart City projects that prioritize smart mobility solutions in the Kingdom. These include the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD), which is being built by the Al Ra’idah Investment company and is the largest of four Smart Cities currently under construction in the Kingdom with a collective investment of over US$70 billion. In addition, Orange Business Services recently signed a Smart City consulting agreement with Jeddah Economic Company to design ICT infrastructure and smart services for the master developer building Jeddah Tower, which will be 1km tall when complete.




“The implementation of Smart City components is considered as an essential step for delivering an environmentally friendly, self-sustainable project. The construction of the infrastructure is going according to the set timeframe, as well as the supply of utilities,” says Mounib Hammoud, CEO of Jeddah Economic City.

In the UAE, Dubai’s strategy for smart vehicles aims to convert 25% of total journeys to various types of driverless options by 2030. Also, Abu Dhabi’s environmentally-friendly Masdar City now has a self-driving shuttle service and partnerships with several e-scooter providers. Kuwait is applying an intelligent traffic control system for overcrowded intersections, while in Oman, Muscat has also implemented smart road technology to manage traffic.




Leading the charge

Carlo Ratti, Professor of the Practice at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), says there is an increasing drive by businesses and the general public in the Gulf to design more Smart Cities and smart mobility solutions, with less interest in achieving technological prowess for its own sake. Ratti says this is the reason MIT piloted the cloud cast concept in 2017 in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Hasan Zuberi, Smart Cities Consultant at Dubai-based Key Options, says the region is home to some key smart mobility solutions and Smart City projects. Zuberi points out that several GCC countries are now operating Smart City initiatives and several governments have re-launched programs to create a new boost in progress and ensure the region’s cities can match, and even exceed, other global cities in the adoption of new technologies.

Tom Pegrume, Vice President of Emerging Markets in Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Hitachi Data Systems, says the Middle East witnessed an initial rush of excitement five years ago about Smart City initiatives, and is now shifting from installing the necessary infrastructure to an era of Big Data analytics. This is providing fresh insights that can enhance operational efficiencies and quality of life in areas such as transport, healthcare, energy and the environment.




Looking ahead, Saudi Arabia is uniquely positioned to foster an entrepreneurial environment for start-ups and SMEs to thrive not only in the smart mobility solutions space, but also in other industry verticals such as AI, Blockchain Cloud and AI-driven Cybersecurity. At LEAP, the country will host a series of conferences with the goal of promoting and highlighting the strides Saudi Arabia and the broader Middle East is making in the smart mobility solutions space.

The next generation of mobility solutions are being designed in the region such Hyperloop project in the UAE, autonomous air taxis and space tourism.

This time, the sky may not even be the limit.