WHAT HE DOES
Builds personal rapid transit systems.
where he doeS It
United Arab Emirates and other international locales
He gets to custom-build futuristic transit systems around the world.
This profile is part of IEEE Spectrum's Special Report on Dream Jobs 2011.
It’s dawn on a humid, 35 °C day in the United Arab Emirates, and Jaap Duiser is guiding his gas-guzzling Toyota SUV through the country’s hypercharged freeway traffic. His destination? One of the world’s most ambitious environmental projects: Masdar City, a multibillion-dollar carbon-neutral oasis being built on a patch of desert outside Abu Dhabi city.
For nearly a year, the Dutchman has been making this 130-kilometer journey between Dubai and Masdar six days a week. But he would love to see such commutes eventually become a thing of the past. Since 1995, he has been working toward a world without drivers. He installs personal rapid-transit systems for 2getthere, a small Dutch company that designs magnetically guided ”podcar” systems. For Masdar, 2getthere has custom-built a fleet of these automated electric cars. The eco-city is expected to pioneer new modes of energy and water use in the UAE—which is one of the biggest per capita energy consumers on the planet—and the transit system is an important showpiece.
As the project’s chief service engineer, Duiser troubleshoots the cars’ electrical, mechanical, air-conditioning, and wireless networking systems. With mere weeks left before he must hand over control of the transit system to its operators, he takes a break only when the local authorities want to show it off to visiting sheikhs or delegations from China and Europe.
On a recent October morning, Duiser is testing a 1-minute-long route from a parking lot at the city’s entrance to a research institute. The future of the project may depend on how well this part of the system performs, so he’s vigilant. He jumps into one of the cream-colored sedans, which are roomy enough for four but surprisingly sleek—they were designed by Zagato, an Italian company known for its aerodynamic vehicles for Maserati and Ferrari.
”Raja’an intibih al baab,” a canned female voice entreats in Arabic and then in English: ”Please mind the doors.” The doors slide shut, and the car whirs smoothly over its concrete path. Near the end of the journey, the voice comes on again. ”Please take your seat and press the green door button to start your trip.” Duiser cracks a smile: The car has misread its location. ”There’s a glitch!” he says. ”It doesn’t matter—we’ll get it fixed.”
To do that, Duiser will dig into the control system. The operating principle is simple: By counting the wheels’ revolutions and measuring the steering angle, the car’s controller can track its position on a map. To correct for uneven wear on the wheels or a strong gust of wind, the car corroborates its location by sensing magnets buried along the route that act as checkpoints. And when a car notices that its lithium-ion battery pack is running low, it helpfully takes itself out of rotation and finds its way to the nearest available charging station.