Dubai's futuristic 'sky pod' system could be ready in '3 to 4 years', says CEO

In an exclusive interview, BeemCar CEO Robin Brownsell shares his vision for the emirate’s personal rapid transit (PRT) network

A cross between a monorail and a ski lift, BeemCar’s pods travel five metres above level, at up to 50 km per hour.

Dubai has set its heart on becoming the world’s most futuristic city by 2030. A driving part of this vision is becoming an ultra-liveable destination, powered and supported by sustainable, autonomous transport options.

Chief among those is BeemCar, a UK-headquartered sky pod system with designs on hooking up the emirate’s homes and businesses to the metro network.

The firm’s CEO, Robin Brownsell, says he envisages the concept going live in the “next three to four years.”

In February this year, Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA) signed an MoU with BeemCar to develop a personal rapid transport (PRT) system built on suspended transport technology.

“We are helping the RTA to meet its targets for mobility and hope to solve the first and last mile challenge,” Brownsell tells Arabian Business.

“While inventions such as Hyperloop and other mass transit systems links cities, our home is really in dense urban environments,” he says.

Offgrid, easy-on-the-eye

A cross between a monorail and a ski lift, BeemCar’s pods travel five metres above level, at up to 50 km per hour.

The sky pods are designed to have low visual impact and are offgrid, using solar panels along its beams and support pillars.

Currently still in the concept stage, the pods will be available on demand 24/7 from street-level stops and will be able to carry all passenger types, including those in wheelchairs and some mobility scooters.

BeemCars could help transform high streets by reducing congestion, making them safer, cleaner and more sustainable.

“A key aspect of BeemCar is that it’s suspended above the road,” says Brownsell.

“Whenever transport and people interact at a ground level, there is a propensity for pollution, adverse road safety and taking up road space that could be active for scooters and cyclists,” he says.

20,000 passengers per hour

As a low-cost urban transport alternative, the sky pods are targetting a capacity of more 20,000 passengers per hour, over twice that of a light rail system, but delivered at fifth of the capital cost.

Critically amid today’s ongoing coronavirus pandemic, BeemCar pods have the capacity to be decontaminated between passenger journeys.

The PRT company was chosen from hundreds of global startups to work on future projects in collaboration the RTA within the first round of Dubai Future Accelerators’ 6th Cohort.

“While the Dubai Metro is extremely good and takes people in one direction along a corridor-based system very well, the issue is that it doesn’t necessarily connect people to where they live, work and want to shop,” says Brownsell.

Locating painpoints

The BeemCar team spent several months in 2019 scoping out the main traffic pain points in Dubai and looking at where potential riders may make use of PRT systems in areas which are currently only covered by car.

“We know that unless the PRT is within 200 metres then they won’t bother,” Brownsell says. “We worked with RTA to look for locations that people want to get to and from – such as shopping malls and offices that are not on the metro.

Together we came up with a proposal to install a BeemCar network of up to five km long with about 40 stops,” says the CEO.

He adds: “That’s not a definite plan but we demonstrated that if we could deliver that for Dubai then we would be able to take quite a lot of burden off the congested streets and give a viable alternative to the motorcar.”

Brownsell says the RTA collaboration is ongoing and the MoU is in place over a period of two years.

During the period of the MoU, BeemCar will establish a ‘global development centre’ in the north east of the UK, pulling together a range of technology and engineering partners to work on a concept model for Dubai and other global customers.

Given Dubai’s massive “ambition”, Brownsell says it’s likely the emirate will be home to the world’s first BeemCar network in the coming years.

The CEO adds that BeemCar has also received growing interest from other UAE emirates and Saudi Arabia.

“It is fully our intention that BeemCar will go ahead in Dubai,” Brownsell says. “The actual opportunity [for signed contract delivery] will not occur until they go out to tender.

“We are working together on mastering the technology and looking at how to apply it in new ways.

“We have to work with governments that can support us in terms of approvals of rights of way but also in terms of regulation. The challenge is work together to mutually agree specifications. That’s the space in which the new breed of companies is operating.”

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