Self-driving vehicles in UAE: The journey so far

Autonomous vehicles are expected to be commercialised in the next couple of years in most countries


Waheed Abbas

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Published: Wed 10 Nov 2021, 6:51 PM

Self-driving cars are not new to Dubai.

On Tuesday, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, announced that the UAE will be the second country in the world to test autonomous vehicles on roads.

Although fully autonomous vehicles have yet to make an appearance on the roads, Dubai has already carried out a few tests for driverless vehicles in the past few years. In fact, the first driverless vehicle underwent trial way back in 2016 on Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard in Downtown Dubai for a month.

Interestingly, Cruise, the San Francisco-based robo taxi company backed by automobile giant General Motors, will set up shop in the emirate by 2023. It is being said that The Origin, which was unveiled in January last year, will be operational in Dubai in 2023. Cruise tested the vehicles at their base in San Francisco.

Then, the driverless Jaguar iPace was tested on the first opening day of the Roads and Transport Authority’s (RTA) Congress for Self-Driving in 2019.

It had embarked on a trial run of an autonomous vehicle at Expo 2020 Dubai. The vehicle was used to commute individuals on a dedicated path from the main entrance to staff offices.

Leading the UAE’s initiative from the front, RTA has set an ambitious plan to have a limited number of vehicles by 2023 and hopes to scale up operations by having 4,000 self-driving taxis by 2030. This will make Dubai the first city outside the US to operate such vehicles.

Moreover, Dubai is set to become one of the first cities in the world to issue regulations for the commercial use of autonomous vehicles next year.

5 level for autonomous vehicles

With the current speed of developments taking place in technology, it is anticipated that autonomous vehicles will be commercialised in the next couple of years in most countries.

There are five levels when it comes to autonomous vehicles. According to the US-based data analytics JD Power, if the vehicle has a Level 0, Level 1, or Level 2 driver support system, then an active driver is required. But when the autonomous vehicle operates at Level 3, Level 4 and Level 5, the technology takes complete control of the vehicle.

Safety first

When it comes to automobiles, safety is the first thing that comes to mind. The need for a safe driverless vehicle becomes even more important when around 95 per cent of accidents are due to human error in the country.

“Much of the reckless driving we observe every day is also driven by human behaviour. Hence, from a road safety perspective of course self-driving vehicles and autonomous vehicles are desirable, assuming 100 per cent accurate technology and enough 'critical mass' of autonomous vehicles,” said Thomas Edelmann, managing director of RoadSafetyUAE.


“To reach there,” he said, “it needs testing and real-life evaluation. In this sense, the UAE is once again paving the way to the future, in particular the future of the automotive industry.”

He noted that the various pilot projects of driver-less vehicles with full automation in the UAE are conducted in closed environments and from a road safety perspective this is definitely the right way to go.

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