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Covid-19 may be 'tipping point' for drone and driverless deliveries, says Dubai Future Foundation

Jul 12, 2020


The current coronavirus pandemic may prove to be a “tipping point” that ushers in the era of autonomous deliveries using drones and driverless cars, according to Peter Noack, executive director – future foresight and imagination at the Dubai Future Foundation (DFF).

According to a new report from the DFF, e-commerce is expected to grow in the aftermath of the pandemic.

In the UAE, the digital economy already contributes 4.3 percent to the national’s GDP and is expected to reach $63.8 billion by 2023, according to DFF forecasts.

In an interview with Arabian Business, Noack said that lingering health concerns that came to the forefront during the coronavirus pandemic may mean that e-commerce plays an increasingly important role in UAE life, even if traditional shopping – such as in malls – wanes.

“There may be a fear factor that persists [after the pandemic]. Some people may feel quite uncertain, for example, that the people that take shopping from the supermarket to the house can be verified as being coronavirus free,” he said. “There will be a fear among some people to go back to crowded spaces in the future.”

“As more of the e-commerce moves online, shopping malls will probably change in terms of their provisions,” he added. “We’ll be asking ourselves whether shopping malls remain a destination for people to actually do their shopping, or whether it will be more of a social reality.”

Among the future changes that area likely, Noack added, are different modes of delivery such as drones, which he said have so far been largely caught in “regulation doldrums” that have prevented their implementation at a mass scale.

“Now that we’re in a very different reality, things have changed,” he said. “It may well be that for very lightweight deliveries there will be some kind of regulatory framework that will be accepted.”

Additionally, Noack said that he believes that in the aftermath of the virus the UAE and the rest of the world will increasingly turn to autonomous vehicles that can carry out deliveries.

“More and more, the things that we have seen coming but only reluctantly took on, or that regulators found difficult to find solutions for, May well be accelerated,” he added. “It’s really a tipping point for these technologies.”

In the UAE and around the world, a number of firms have already begun planning and testing various types of autonomous delivery options to deliver products. Amazon, for example, has been testing drone deliveries for years, while Google parent company Alphabet has tested similar deliveries in Australia.

Several firms have also announced similar plans in the UAE. In 2017, for example, Costa Coffee successfully tested a drone delivery service that delivered drinks to beachgoers in Dubai.