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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Qatar company aims to improve road safety with technology’s help

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Dr. Adnan Abu-Dayya

A Qatar-based company believes it’s found a way to help motorists avoid traffic congestion and drive more safely – all while showing that the country can develop its own high-tech solutions without being completely reliant on foreign firms.

Qatar Mobility and Innovations Center (QMIC) has attached hundreds of sensors to lampposts across the country to pick up the unique signals emitted by Bluetooth devices inside passing vehicles.

By tracking how long it takes for that device to travel between two sensors, as well as passively monitoring the movement of phones running its apps, QMIC’s platform powers Masarak iTraffic, an app that provides navigation and road congestion information in Qatar and has been downloaded more than 50,000 times.

It also has programs that prevents motorists from using their cell phones in moving vehicles and helps companies with large vehicle fleets route their cars and trucks more efficiently.

While the company is adding to its client list and signing deals with local entities such as Qatar Rail, CEO Dr. Adnan Abu-Dayya says one of his top goals is to make QMIC one of the first ventures in the country to turn local research and development into a commercially viable technology product that can be used at home and sold around the world.

“We’re trying to do something that the country aspires to, but has not been fully done yet,” he said.

National priorities

Abu-Dayya is a Palestinian who worked for Nortel Networks in Ottawa in the ‘90s before heading to Seattle to spend a decade with AT&T Wireless.

When he moved to the Gulf in 2007 to head up Qatar University’s electrical engineering department, he noted the country’s efforts to diversify the economy away from oil and gas by creating knowledge-based companies in sectors such as high tech.

In 2009, he officially launched QMIC – which is jointly owned by QU, Qatar Foundation and the Qatar Science and Technology Park. The company’s focus was to develop technology that improves road safety, makes transportation networks more efficient and helps companies better manage their vehicle fleets.

Masarak

That information can help motorists shave a few minutes off their commute, and on a wider scale also lead to major cost savings for companies operating large car or truck fleets.

For this reason, QMIC is marketing its Masarak platform to large enterprise customers, such as government departments and big corporations, an effort that culminated in a “huge” deal with Qatar Rail that was announced earlier this month.

While construction on the Doha Metro is just starting to get underway, Abu-Dayya says Qatar Rail and its contractors will eventually be shuttling upwards of a thousand trucks of building materials and waste to and from station and tunneling sites each day.

With those vehicles equipped with GPS devices, QMIC would help Qatar Rail manage its vehicle dispatching and routing by providing both technology and staff to help it operate its logistics center.

Abu-Dayya declined to disclose the value of the five-year contract, except to say it is “extremely valuable.”

Snagging the country’s rail office as a client and participating in one of Qatar’s large-scale development projects is a significant endorsement for QMIC, which is also aligning itself with another national priority: road safety.

The company has also developed an app called Salamtek (Arabic for “Your safety”) that effectively locks a cell phone when it detects that it is traveling above a certain speed. Anyone who calls or texts automatically receives a message that the person they are trying to contact is driving and will respond when it is safe to do so.

While it currently depends on motorists’ desire to change their behavior and has only been downloaded about 1,000 times, Abu-Dayya says he sees potential in marketing it to logistics or delivery companies that don’t want their drivers using the phone while they are behind the wheel.

He also envisions forming deeper marketing partnerships with government entities such as the Ministry of Interior to create rewards and incentives to motivate motorists to lock their phone while driving.

But the company’s ambitions to improve road safety using mobile devices go much further. Later this month, QMIC plans to demo another technological innovation dubbed the “connected vehicle.”

The vision is to have cars communicate with other cars and the road network itself to alert drivers when, for example, they are about to make an unsafe lane change, the speed limit is changing or there is a broken-down vehicle blocking a lane up ahead.

Global ambitions

At the same time, QMIC is also upgrading its iTraffic app, adding voice alerts and features that competitors such as Google Maps would have trouble matching, such as a database of Qatar addresses and up-to-date information on local road closures and diversions.

“Nobody can compete with us on our home turf in terms of data, access to features and capabilities,” Abu-Dayya says. “We live here. We know when there is a problem (on the roads).”

QMIC has another advantage. Unlike many of its privately run peers, it is backed by the government in a country where the state plays a significant role in the economy, freeing it from some of the financial pressures faced by other firms.

At this time, Abu-Dayya says the company offers its mobile apps for free and has no immediate plans to try to monetize its consumer products. Instead, the company is following the business model of companies such as Facebook and Twitter by focusing on building a large community of users.

That would help improve the quality of the app, since more data would be fed into QMIC’s system, which in turn could attract additional users and make the platform more attractive to marketers if the company chooses to pursue advertising revenues.

QMIC does face other challenges, such as finding an adequate supply of talented tech workers that will allow it to scale up its operations and eventually start exporting to other countries in the region and beyond.

Even though it may at times act like a commercial entity, Abu-Dayya says profitability takes a backseat to helping local clients and the country as a whole.

“We will live and die with our success in Qatar, making sure we are relevant and supporting the needs of the country. But the value, over time, will come from utilizing our technology globally.”

Thoughts?

11 COMMENTS

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MIMH
MIMH
7 years ago

What a load of rubbish. So they can tell me where the traffic is, great and even prevent them using a cell phone but that will not solve the problem of reckless, inconsiderate and dangerous driving.

Why does everyone want to avoid the issue of enforcement of the existing laws by the traffic police? That is the only solution to changing people’s behaviour over time, nice electronic aids although useful won’t make a tiny dent, (pun intended) in the road casulaties in Qatar.

Jaded
Jaded
7 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

They don’t claim that this app will reduce casualties, it’s an app to help you save a few mins during your commute by helping you avoid some congested roads, that’s it, they don’t claim any more. Even in the case of the app that disables the phone when driving, they still say it depends on motorists’ desire to change their behavior and that it’s been downloaded far fewer times than the traffic app

Net-guy
Net-guy
7 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

great so now we will have rolling traffic snags, just what Doha needs…

desertCard
desertCard
7 years ago

How does it know whether I’m driving or just a passenger?

Vanessa
Vanessa
7 years ago
Reply to  desertCard

Same same!

Dania Nizam
Dania Nizam
7 years ago
Reply to  desertCard

You choose to enable the app as a driver or disable it as a passenger

greg
greg
7 years ago

By blocking the usage of mobiles while driving.
That would really help

Observant One
Observant One
7 years ago

How about some law enforcement ? It’s not going to help road safety in the gulf at all. And think about it , to access it whilst driving you are on your I phone or blackberry not concentrating on your driving. Probably kill more people than save.. Stupidity.

jh125486
jh125486
7 years ago

I’ve been using Waze here for awhile.
Google just bought them up and they do a really good job of routing around bad traffic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waze
Instead of pouring money into “reinventing the wheel”, why couldn’t they just have partnered with Google and provided more up to-date maps?

Vanessa
Vanessa
7 years ago

What happened to good ol’ traffic choppers that regularly report to drivers via radio stations and local news? Doha News needs a traffic helicopter! 🙂

ZaidHaque
ZaidHaque
7 years ago

Finding an adequate supply of talented tech workers is not a challenge. Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar and Qatar University are producing more than enough skilled workers in the tech sector and there’s not enough demand for tech workers here so some of them have to leave Qatar.

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