Driverless vehicle from Neolix at awards ceremony of ‘Dubai World Challenge for Self Driving Transport’ at Dubai World Trade Centre on Wednesday Image Credit: Faisal Masudi/Gulf News

Dubai: Dubai expects in 2022 to complete the regulation needed to allow self-driving cars on the roads by 2023, a senior official said on Wednesday.

Ahmed Hashim Bahrozyan, CEO of the Public Transport Agency of Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) told reporters: “We are quite fast compared to other cities in issuing the regulation [to govern self-driving cars on the roads]. We already have the full regulation in Dubai for conducting trials on roads for autonomous vehicles, but now the next step for us is to issue regulation for actual operation, commercial operation [on the roads], and that’s what we’re working on now. We are quite advanced in that now.”

He added: “We are working with the Dubai legislation authority, Dubai Police and all our partners. We expect that by next year we will have the regulation in place.”

Driverless taxis in Dubai

RTA plans to have five per cent of the Dubai Taxi fleet as driverless cabs on the road by 2023, it was earlier announced in August. RTA had recently signed a partnership agreement with General Motors-backed ‘Cruise’ to run driverless taxis and shared transport services in Dubai.

The move will make Dubai the first city outside the US to operate such vehicles.

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According to the agreement, RTA is completing all preparations for the launch of self-driving taxis in 2023 with a limited number of vehicles. The number of vehicles in operations will be scaled up gradually to reach 4,000 self-driving taxis by 2030.

Self-driving challenge

On Wednesday, Bahrozyan’s comments came during an interaction with the media on the sidelines of the ‘Dubai World Congress for Self Driving Transport’ and the awards ceremony of the ‘Dubai World Challenge for Self Driving Transport’ at Dubai World Trade Centre.

The competition was held under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council of Dubai.

The event was attended by Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman and Chief Executive, Emirates Airline and Group; and Mattar Mohammed Al Tayer, RTA’s director-general and chairman of its board of executive directors, among other senior officials.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum (fourth from left) and Mattar Mohammed Al Tayer (second from left) during the awards ceremony Image Credit: Faisal Masudi/Gulf News

The competition, held by the RTA under the theme ‘Self-Driving Logistics’, offered prizes of over Dh6 million in total.

During the award’s ceremony, Sheikh Ahmed also announced the launch of the ‘3rd Dubai World Challenge for Self-Driving Transport’ under the theme ‘Self-Driving Buses’

Smarter public transport in Dubai

Also on the sidelines of the event, RTA signed an agreement with Alibaba, a Chinese multinational company specialising in e-commerce, retail, internet, and technology.

Signing of Memorandum of Understanding between RTA and Alibaba at the event Image Credit: Faisal Masudi/Gulf News

The agreement will see RTA utilise “a very sophisticated platform for mobility, based on artificial intelligence” to enhance public transport-related services – starting with buses – and other mobility means, by capturing data of passengers’ movement, Bahrozyan said.

The data and artificial intelligence will help RTA design – to begin with – bus routes, stations and stops that are “even more responsive to the needs of people”.

Challenge winners

On Wednesday, the 2021 edition of the Dubai World Challenge for Self Driving Transport was won by both Neolix (China) in partnership with Gaussin (France), and Yandex (Russia) in the award’s main category of ‘Industry Pioneers’. The two companies surpassed 29 other challengers from a total of 20 countries to win the award.

Each winning company received $700,000 (around Dh2.57 million).

Driverless delivery

Neolix has made a self-driving delivery vehicle, which – according to Jason Wang, UAE country manager of Neolix – is now in use in Downtown Dubai.

The vehicle was on display at the GITEX tech show at Dubai World Trade Centre last week. Gulf News had then reported how the vehicle will be used as a last-mile delivery solution, initially deployed along Emaar Boulevard in Downtown Dubai, where the vehicle will deliver goods from retailers on its own without human intervention.

On Wednesday, Wang said the vehicle is now operating near the Dubai Fountain area in Downtown Dubai, carrying purchases via UAE-based online shopping portal Noon.

Wang added that the vehicle – which can also operate as a mobile vending machine and transporter of hot or cold foodstuffs – will also be in service at RIT Dubai university in January 2022.

Other winners

In the ‘Robot’ category for universities in the UAE, Khalifa Univeristy in Abu Dhabi took first prize. In the ‘Drone’ category, NYU Abu Dhabi was in first place.

They both won $100,000 (around Dh367,000) each. 

‘Godfather of driverless cars’

Wednesday’s keynote address at the event was delivered by Sebastian Thrun, a professor at Stanford University (USA) who founded Google X and Google’s self-driving car team.

Sebastian Thrun at DWTC on Oct 27, 2021
Sebastian Thrun during his keynote at the event Image Credit: Faisal Masudi/Gulf News

Thrun, now CEO of Kitty Hawk Corporation, is sometimes called the “godfather of the self-driving car” for his pioneering work in the sector, although he told the Dubai gathering on Wednesday the title “might not be deserved”.

The German-American innovator said it was time for driverless cars to leave behind research labs and enter the real world on the roads.

“That’s why I’m so excited about the RTA and the work happening in the city on the regulatory side to open the pathways to take this technology into the world for the benefit of people,” Thrun said.

Congress sessions

As part of the Dubai World Congress for Self-Driving Transport, participants reviewed the future of the development of self-driving technologies and technological infrastructure and the formation of legislation related to self-driving transport. Dr Sebastian Thrun, a professor at Stanford University, addressed the topic of self-driving technologies between the past and the future. Scheherazade Zekri, Director of the New Mobility Services at Keolis Group spoke about the global market for self-driving vehicles. Eng. Muammar Al Kathiri, Executive Vice President for Engineering Affairs at the Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority spoke about Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority ‘SANDBOX’, the MENA region’s first-of-its-kind programme to support early-stage technology projects in their foundation stages and help with their finance. Dr Steven Shladover, Chairman of the Jury Committee of the Dubai World Challenge for Self-Driving Transport, spoke about the safety of self-driving, namely regulations and data.

The Congress included a discussion panel about the challenges and global trends of self-driving transport technology. The speakers included Andrei Bolshakon, Founder and Chief Business Development Officer at EvoCargo, and Professor Arnaud de La Fortelle, Co-founder and CTO of Heex Technologies. Dr Ismail Zohdy, RTA expert in self-driving transport moderated the session.