What it's like to ride in the UAE's first autonomous taxi

The cars are part of a month-long trial on Yas Island from late November to December 23

The UAE's first fully autonomous taxi is currently being trialled in Abu Dhabi.

The project, named TXAI, consists of a fleet of ride-sharing vehicles that are available for members of the public to try out on Yas Island until December 30.

The National was at the media tour to try out the new autonomous taxi.

The first thing you notice is the enormous contraption on the roof, loaded with cameras and sensors to guide the driverless journey.

The next is perhaps somewhat unexpected for a driverless car – a person occupying the driver’s seat.

But this is a “safety officer”, not a driver.

And ours, Mustafa Wazir, does not at any point actually touch the controls, although he would in the event of it all going wrong.

Mr Wazir's hands remain poised near the steering wheel at all times on our journey. He tells us he’s thankfully never had to wrest control via the big red button in the centre console, which shuts down the system.

“It’s a very smooth system,” he says.

For the phase one trial, Mustafa Wazir sits for security purposes in the first fully autonomous taxi on Yas Island. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

At our pick-up point outside fashion outlet Tryano at Yas Mall, we confirm our ride via the TXAI app (available on iOS and Android), which allows you to book the service.

All the cars are electric, so the drive is predictably smooth and a little slow to start with.

The cars do, however, pick up speed. The top speed is set at 90kph during the trial but cars typically do not go above 65kph, Mr Wazir says.

The car indicates and gently veers to the left as we approach the lights on our short journey to Yas Waterworld.

The ride feels safe, especially with the reassuring presence of Mr Wazir.

As we briefly slow down to join the main Yas Drive, he gives a quick glance in his wing mirror to check we are not cutting anyone up and off we go again.

In no time we arrive at Yas Waterworld, to see another TXAI being cleaned by an employee while it waits for its next passenger.

The route of the journey is displayed inside the taxi. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

The cars have been busy, according to a representative from the company, Bayanat, a geospatial, data analytics and AI company in the UAE, which is running the trial.

On Monday, 100 orders were placed on the app for cars, 60 of which were ultimately cancelled.

It is not known why but some people book purely out of curiosity to see if it will work.

Sometimes customers may have to wait up to 10 minutes, so their patience may wear thin, the representative said, as there are only four cars in operation on the island. A fifth is available at Expo 2020 Dubai.

Riders can choose to go to nine points on Yas Island, which include Ikea, Yas Beach, Yas Mall, Yas Marina, W Hotel, Etihad Arena and Ferrari World, in addition to the waterpark. The full circuit is a 20km trip.

Cars are available to book until December 23, when the month-long trial phase comes to an end.

Trips are free for now and the company has yet to divulge how much trips may cost during subsequent phases, which may be extended to wider areas.

A screen in the back of the car shows a satellite navigation view of the journey.

The safety officer has another screen in front of him, which pings on our return to Yas Mall to tell us of a new booking from Yas Waterworld.

In no time we are back again at the drop off-point at Tryano and the car comes to a gentle stop.

As we leave, the car was already en route to pick up its next passenger to experience a similarly smooth journey.

Updated: December 1st 2021, 11:43 AM