Saudi Arabia’s RCU launches autonomous pod vehicle service in AlUla
As part of its commitment to develop convenient and sustainable public transport options, the Royal Commission for AlUla’s smart pod pilot scheme will provide passengers with a quick and easy link to Al-Ula’s Old Town.
Credit: Royal Commission for AlUla
Residents and visitors to AlUla can now experience the future of sustainable, zero-emission mobility on their doorstep with the launch of a new, fully autonomous pod vehicle service. The innovative pilot scheme provides passengers with a quick and easy link to AlUla’s Old Town and will be further extended to new locations – including Dadan, Hegra and AlJadidah later in 2022.
The service is part of the Royal Commission for AlUla’s (RCU) comprehensive Journey Through Time (JTT) masterplan to develop a range of fully integrated, accessible and environmentally friendly public transport options. Having already achieved 280 passenger journeys in a single day of the pilot, the autonomous pod vehicle can transport up to 22 people at a time (eight seated and 14 standing), although capacity will be limited to eight during the pilot scheme.
Safe, environmentally friendly and comfortable, the autonomous pod offers residents and visitors a glimpse of how RCU’s long-term development of convenient and sustainable mobility will enhance their daily lives and shape the future of transport and AlUla itself.
Amr AlMadani, CEO of RCU, said: “The launch of this pilot scheme for the autonomous pod public transport service is the first step towards RCU’s goal of providing the AlUla community with access to the very latest in clean, safe and energy efficient mobility solutions. As outlined in our JTT masterplan, sustainability is the driving force behind our ambitions for the future of AlUla and our goal to establish the wider northwest Arabia region as a hub for innovation, business and tourism.”
“The pod will give visitors and members of the community a viable and attractive alternative to using personal cars and SUVs to travel around the town and, as the service expands and grows, to surrounding areas. Seamlessly connecting AlUla’s people and places, the pod service, which is being offered alongside a variety of alternative transport options, will enhance the area’s bourgeoning appeal to an international audience while enhancing both its smart and environmental credentials among residents. When fully operational, the network will deliver a convenient, quick, fun and enjoyable mode of transport linking AlUla’s main heritage and urban sites with its existing and expanding infrastructure plans,” AlMadani added.
The pilot allows RCU to carefully monitor energy consumption, connectivity and practicality before rolling out the autonomous service across specially chosen sites in AlUla. The position, progress and performance of the pod is monitored by teams based at RCU’s Smart County Control Platform, while cameras can be added to enhance passenger safety and capacity planning.
RCU worked closely with RATP Dev, a wholly owned subsidiary of the RATP Group, to source the pod. With more than 120 years of experience, the French public transport company has proven to be an ideal partner, with the expertise needed to match RCU’s ambitions.
Denis Guillois, CEO of RATP Dev Saudi Arabia, said: “RATP Dev Saudi Arabia is thrilled to be supporting the Royal Commission for AlUla as it puts smart mobility solutions in place for the benefit of all visitors and residents. We are proud to contribute to the long-term preservation and development of Al-Ula and Hegra, Saudi’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, through the design and operation of this innovative autonomous pod project.”
Quiet and with no impact on the environment, the smart pod pilot scheme highlights RCU’s commitment to preserving the natural beauty and heritage of AlUla, while also providing the local community and visitors with a range of mobility choices, alongside e-scooters, cycle paths and electric public buses.
RCU’s long-term plans include making autonomous pods available to residents and visitors to AlUla via an ‘Uber’ style service, with bookings made on a smartphone application fully connected to RCU and AUla’s smart cities ambitions. As a further innovation, RCU is co-developing digital paper touchscreens to be placed in each pod station that can call pods on demand.