A digital map is to be created of Dubai to pave the way for the first driverless taxis, in a major step forward for the emirate's autonomous transport strategy.
Two Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles, equipped with sensors and cameras, are to be used ahead of the wider introduction of high-tech taxis next year.
Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority said the public-private partnership with US company Cruise was the "first of its kind worldwide".
The RTA said the Cruise vehicles would initially be used in Jumeirah and driven by specialist drivers.
Cruise’s technology uses a high-resolution map of the physical environment, which is created using mapping vehicles equipped with sensors including Lidar (Light detection and ranging) and cameras.
The vehicles driven throughout the city will collect data, which is then used to create and maintain a navigable map for autonomous vehicles.
"The agreement, which is the first of its kind worldwide between a government entity and a leading company in the field of autonomous vehicles, is a major step toward realising Dubai’s Self-Driving Transport Strategy," said the RTA on Twitter.
Mattar Al Tayer, director general of RTA, said "limited numbers" of the cars would be introduced in 2023.
The launch of driverless taxis is part of a long-term vision to make 25 per cent of total trips autonomous across various modes of transport by 2030.
In March, the RTA announced plans to begin the testing of driverless taxis as part of the partnership with Cruise, the majority-owned autonomous vehicle subsidiary of General Motors, which would initially have 10 vehicles in operation.
Cruise agreed to launch its first international robotaxi service outside the US in Dubai, in a deal announced by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, on Twitter in April 2021.
“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,” Sheikh Hamdan said at the time.
“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.”
The RTA said it would complete rigorous testing before that launch to ensure the taxis are prepared for the hectic driving styles of some motorists in the UAE.
It is hoped wider adoption of autonomous vehicles will greatly reduce road accidents.
By 2030, it is expected that 4,000 driverless taxis will be in operation in Dubai.
The topic of driverless cars was a prime focus of the World Government Summit, held at Expo 2020 Dubai in March, during a session on policy and innovation in the future of movement.
As technology develops, so will the regulations required to create a safe and legal environment for all road users.
Jeff Bleich, chief legal officer of Cruise, said Dubai would be the company’s first international partner to create a new cities system and develop the future of smart mobility.
“This kind of development and that of smart devices will be essential for work systems around the world, all governments will have to involve this positive transformation,” he said.
UAE's autonomous drive
Dubai Taxi Corporation's Strategic Plan for 2021 to 2023 set out plans for one in 20 taxis in Dubai to be driverless by next year.
Trials for an autonomous taxi service in Abu Dhabi were completed in November.
TXAI completed its initial trial phase, with more than 2,730 passengers booking the service, according to G42 subsidiary Bayanat.
The public trials took place on Abu Dhabi's Yas Island between November 23 and December 27, 2021.
TXAI was the first self-driving project to be tested on a public road in the capital.
Ten driverless taxis are due to begin operating across various Abu Dhabi locations this year in the next stage of the plans.