UAE: Driverless water taxis will ferry people from Abu Dhabi to nearby islands

Autonomous surface vehicles for city-to-island passenger transport would increase efficiency, safety, reduce costs and optimise passenger experiences

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Ashwani Kumar

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Photo: Abu Dhabi Maritime
Photo: Abu Dhabi Maritime

Published: Wed 7 Feb 2024, 12:24 PM

Last updated: Wed 7 Feb 2024, 11:00 PM

Autonomous water taxis for passenger transportation in Abu Dhabi City and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) for cargo movement will soon be introduced as part of a groundbreaking collaboration to revolutionise land, air, and marine operations with AI and robotic solutions.

Abu Dhabi entities Technology Innovation Institute (TII), Aspire, and Maqta Gateway, part of AD Ports Group’s digital cluster, recently inked an agreement to develop innovative solutions, concepts and applications.

Jeremy Nicola, senior director at TII, gave a detailed insight into the plans to provide real-world solutions to several of Abu Dhabi Ports’ maritime infrastructural challenges.

“The project’s scope covers UGVs for the movement of general cargo of different dimensions in the warehouse areas and autonomous water taxis to transport people from Abu Dhabi mainland to the neighbouring islands. These will eventually become a part of the Department of Transport’s maritime infrastructure assets,” Nicola told Khaleej Times in an interview.

Jeremy Nicola
Jeremy Nicola

TII is an applied research pillar of Abu Dhabi’s Advanced Technology Research Council (ATRC) focused on developing new-age technology capabilities.

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ASVs to increase safety, efficiency

Nicola underlined that the autonomous surface vehicles (ASVs) for city-to-island passenger transport would increase efficiency, safety, and reliability, reduce costs, and optimise passenger experiences.

“ASVs can revolutionise city-to-island passenger transport by increasing efficiency and reducing costs via optimising routes and adjusting their schedules in real-time based on traffic and weather conditions. They can lower operational costs and mitigate the need for human crews, and limit maintenance costs compared to traditional ferries. They provide 24/7 on-demand transportation, even in challenging conditions.”

Nicola said that ASVs minimise human error and augment situational awareness using a combination of LiDAR and radar technologies and additional sensors.

“These sensors offer multimodal, 360-degree views of the environment, a considerable advantage in ensuring secure and efficient transportion. ASVs could offer a smoother and more comfortable ride with adaptive speeds.”

UGVs to transform cargo industry

Meanwhile, UGVs will be transforming cargo movement by bolstering productivity, safety, cost efficiency, and more aspects, including reducing risks of accidents.

“UGVs, by operating continuously, enhance efficiency and productivity, offering a level of performance beyond human capabilities. They can also navigate complex environments with precision, ensuring increased throughput and reduced turnaround times for ships and cargo. They help improve safety and eliminate the need for human workers to operate in dangerous environments, such as near heavy machinery or in hazardous weather conditions – thereby reducing accident risks and injuries.”

Nicola underlined that TII’s tech solutions will help Abu Dhabi Ports improve cost efficiency by automating many tasks carried out manually, such as loading and unloading cargo.

“UGVs are equipped with sensors that can collect data on cargo movement, such as weight, dimensions, and location, to improve efficiency and optimise operations. UGVs, in the long run, can support container handling, warehousing, and inspection of cargo for damage or contraband – helping to improve security and prevent the spread of pests and diseases.”

Robots versus humans

Nicola noted that advanced robotics considerably accelerates the efficiency and productivity of customised UGVs and ASVs by enabling improved navigation, obstacle avoidance, and adaptive decision-making.

“These technologies employ cutting-edge sensors, AI algorithms, and machine learning to interpret their surroundings, allowing for more precise movement and autonomous operation. Robotics helps manufacture smarter and more agile vehicles, optimising their ability to perform complex tasks in diverse environments with minimal human intervention. Overall, robotics makes vehicles safer, more reliable, and efficient in areas such as logistics, surveillance, exploration, and research.”

He clarified that the idea of using robots was intended to alleviate humans from routine, repetitive, and stressful tasks in potentially dangerous situations or spaces that are difficult for humans to access.

“As a rule, all situations where human performance or safety can be affected by exhaustion, risk, or similar factors, are good candidates for robotic automation.”

Nicola pointed out that the technology solutions are subjected to rigorous training and testing in real-world scenarios to anticipate all potential challenges at the Autonomous Robotics Research Center.

“Our primary strategy to ensure the safety and security of our AI-powered solutions is to collaborate closely with the UAE authorities. We aim to adhere to the strictest safety standards currently available, and where these standards do not yet exist, we will work in partnership with these authorities to help define them.”

Unparalleled leap for Abu Dhabi

Nicola underlined that the fusion of customised UGVs and ASVs alongside the significant progress achieved in robotics represents an “unparalleled leap” for Abu Dhabi’s digital transformation and innovation landscape.

“These pioneering technologies transcend mere functional enhancements in cargo transportation and mass transit. They architect a new era of interconnected systems that are helping reshape the city’s smart infrastructure. A comprehensive digital-first approach establishes the emirate as a role model for digital transformation, influencing other regions to embark on similar journeys toward a smarter, and more connected future.”

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