Cruise to unveil its driverless robotaxis in Dubai in 2023

The emirate will be the first market outside the US to operate trips using the self-driving vehicles

Dubai selects Cruise as exclusive provider of ridehail services. Courtesy Cruise
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Cruise, the self-driving vehicle company backed by General Motors and Honda, will launch its first international robotaxi service outside the US in Dubai in 2023, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, said on Twitter.

“Dubai will be the first outside America to operate self-driving Cruise vehicles, in fulfilment of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s vision that Dubai is always in first place and the best city to live and work,” said Sheikh Hamdan.

“Our goal is to convert 25 per cent of the total ... trips in Dubai to self-driving trips through various means of transport by 2030.”

Sheikh Hamdan discussed the future of mobility with Jeff Bleich, chief legal officer of General Motors-Cruise. He also attended the signing ceremony of a strategic partnership between Cruise and the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority.

The entities aim to have a limited number of Cruise’s self-driving vehicles running in Dubai from 2023, with 4,000 vehicles on the road by 2030.

Dubai aims to reduce transport costs by Dh900 million ($245.2m) through its adoption of self-driving technology, Sheikh Hamdan said. Using these vehicles could increase the transport efficiency, help the emirate to grow revenue by Dh18bn a year and generate Dh1.5 billion in savings through a reduction of environmental pollution by 12 per cent a year, he said.

The robotaxi service in Dubai will use the Cruise Origin, an all-electric shuttle first unveiled in January last year.

“The Cruise Origin will make transportation safer, a better experience, more affordable and better for the planet,” Dan Ammann, chief executive of Cruise, said.

“Dubai and the RTA are leading the way in making this a reality for their people, and for people everywhere.”

The vehicle has no steering wheel and seats will face each other.

The robotaxis, in Cruise’s orange and black colours, will “accommodate the needs of an individual, with personal USB ports”, the company’s chief technology officer and co-founder Kyle Vogt said at the time.

Improvements are also being made to allow it to travel at motorway speeds. The Cruise Origin is will be produced at General Motor’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant from next year.

A driverless Cruise vehicle displayed at 2019's Detroit Motor Show. AP
A driverless Cruise vehicle displayed at 2019's Detroit Motor Show. AP

The car maker has spent about $2.2bn refurbishing the plant to switch from internal combustion motors to battery-powered electric engines.

“We engaged in a comprehensive, multi-year process to choose the best possible partner,” said Mattar Al Tayer, director general and chairman of the board of executive directors of the RTA.

“Cruise’s technology, resources, purpose-built vehicle, car maker partnerships, approach to safe testing and deployment and strategy give them the ability to launch safely and faster than any other company.”

Cruise, which has raised more than $7.4bn over the last three years, was valued at $30bn in January. Its investors include SoftBank, Honda, GM, T Rowe Price Group and Microsoft.

The company aims to unveil a robotic taxi service to compete against companies such as Uber and Lyft.

It began to test self-driving vehicles on the streets of San Francisco in December after it obtained permission from California’s state government in October.

The company, which was bought by GM in 2016, had previously set a goal of using driverless cars as part of a ride-hailing service by the end of 2019 but the plan has taken longer than expected to bring to fruition.

Other technology companies such as Amazon and Google owner Alphabet are also backing self-driving electric initiatives that are focused on mass transport.

Alphabet's Waymo is operating a commercial self-driving taxi service, whereas Amazon-backed Zoox is working on a self-driving ride-hailing fleet. Industry analysts said Amazon could also use self-driving cars to deliver goods to customers.

Many local companies are experimenting with self-driving technology in the UAE.

Cruise will establish a new Dubai-based company which will be fully responsible for the deployment, operation and maintenance of the fleet. Courtesy Cruise
Cruise will establish a new Dubai-based company which will be fully responsible for the deployment, operation and maintenance of the fleet. Courtesy Cruise

In September, the Dubai-based Al Habtoor group joined forces with Israeli car technology company Mobileye in September to operate a fleet of self-driving vehicles and robotaxis in Dubai by 2023.

Transport chiefs in Abu Dhabi intend to allow driverless taxis in the emirate from this year.

The Department of Municipalities and Transport has linked up with Bayanat, part of the G42 group, on a trial for the use of self-driving vehicles.

The first phase of the project will feature three self-driving vehicles providing free transport services from hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and offices at Yas Mall.