What could transport in Malta look like a few years from now? Professor Alexiei Dingli, one of the country’s leading AI experts and researchers, has provided a potential glimpse into the future – one where cars and buses drive by themselves and drones deliver mail.
“Autonomous vehicles operate in quite a number of states in the USA, so while we may think of it as futuristic the technology is here and it works fine, Dingli said during an interview on Lovin Daily last Friday.
“It’s much more convenient because it optimises the car; it can track your location by GPS to avoid traffic congestion and accidents in advance and take alternative routes.”
This kind of technology is set to hit Malta very soon, with Malta Public Transport recently announcing plans to start testing driverless buses sometime next year.
These buses will initially be tested on four routes – the road connecting Mater Dei and the UoM, the road around the Ta Qali family park, Republic Street, and the stretch between Smart City and Esplora.
Alexiei Dingli said that if Malta’s culture changes to the point that people trust driverless buses, the next logical step will be to roll out self-driving cars, something he predicted will be a “transportation revolution”.
“You’ll be able to summon a self-driving car to pick you up from your doorstep and drive you to work. You’ll be able to have meetings in your car, play games or work while commuting. The notion of commuting will completely change in the coming years.”
He allayed safety concerns, noting that the majority of road accidents today are the result of human error and that aeroplanes already run on autopilot for practically the entire trip.
“Self-driving cars collate information from all other cars so they’re constantly learning; the safety will increase. Personally I think they’re much safer.”
Dingli also predicted the rise of drone delivery services, a technology Amazon intends to roll out in the near future through its ‘Prime Air’ service.
“Drones will become very popular in Malta and the world, and we believe that one of the new jobs it will create is the drone controller, sort of a traffic controller of drones.”
“In the not too distant future, because I know they’re testing this kind of drone in Malta too, you’ll be able to send parcels or letters via drone and the other person will receive them almost immediately.”
Meanwhile, Malta Public Transport’s commercial director Daniel Grech noted that technology which is already implemented in the national public transport system can encourage people to ween themselves off private cars.
“It no longer makes sense to travel to Valletta with transport that isn’t the bus. You can now pick up a Tallinja bike from Valletta, cycle to the fast ferry, drop it off, pick up another bike at Mġarr and cycle up to Rabat,” he said.
“We’ve also integrated the Tallinja card payment with both fast ferry operators and the Barrakka lift, so besides booking your day and time to travel you can also use pay with an integrated payment system from your phone.”
Cover photo: Left – Alexiei Dingli (Photo: Twitter), Top right – Amazon’s planned Prime Air system (Photo: Amazon), Bottom right – A Tesla self-driving car (Photo: Tesla)