A driverless taxi from 'Txai' at Abu Dhabi Smart City Summit on Tuesday Image Credit: Samihah Zaman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Driverless taxis are now available to ferry passengers free of charge between select locations on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island.

The vehicles, known as robo-taxis or ‘Txais’, were launched on Tuesday at the Abu Dhabi Smart City Summit by geospatial and data analytics firm Bayanat and the Department of Municipalities and Transport’s Integrated Transport Centre (ITC).

Hailing the taxi

A dedicated smartphone app to hail the driverless cars will be online in the next 24 hours, Bayanat CEO Hasan Al Hosani told Gulf News on the sidelines of the summit.

Residents and visitors can download and register on the app, then hail the vehicles. At present, the vehicles cover locations such as Yas Beach, Etihad Arena and other popular sites on the island.

Next phases

“In this first phase, the cars are offering free transport, and are manned by trained safety officers onboard, in keeping with the emirate’s transport regulations. In the next phases, we hope to extend the geographical area that these driverless vehicles cover, including deploying them on highways,” Al Hosani said.

Three of the vehicles are electric and two are hybrid. They have all undergone rigorous pre-launch testing, including intensive tests over the last week, ITC said.

Al Hosani also confirmed that 10 professionals have been trained at the Emirates Driving Company to ensure safety on board the vehicles.

Boosting sustainability

“The goal with deploying driverless, electric vehicles is to reduce congestion on the roads, as well as decrease carbon emissions. We in the UAE want to lead in all sectors; this is not only what the past year has taught us but also the strategy our leadership has always stressed. This launch is therefore the stepping stone towards making the UAE more sustainable, and keep it at the forefront of technological advances,” Al Hosani said.

Safety officers 

Fatmah Al Hantoubi, ITC section head for transportation services plannning, said: “We have tested the cars on the roads for more than a week, and there were no safety incidents recorded over this period. In order to further reassure users of their safety, we’ve mandated that safety officers be present onboard. They will not operate the vehicle, except in cases of a rare emergency."

The official added that it expects more driverless taxis to take to the roads soon.

“Following this pilot phase on Yas Island, we will analyse all the data and decide how best to deploy more such taxis on the roads,” she added.

The two-day summit is seeing the presence of 400 experts who are discussing the outlook for the UAE capital, including the increased deployment of Artificial Intelligence, data analytic and Internet of Things technology. Organised by the Department of Municipalities and Transport (DMT), municipal sector regulator for the emirate, the summit also witnessed the signing of agreements with a number of technology developers, including Bayanat, G42 and Huawei.