Dubai launches first self-driving electric abra

High-tech wooden boat being tested out in line with emirate's autonomous transport ambitions

Dubai is trialling the use of an electric self-driving abra. Photo: RTA
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Dubai's first autonomous electric wooden abra has hit the waters to support efforts to cut carbon emissions and boost the emirate's self-driving transport goals.

The revamped vessel has embarked on its first journey from Al Jadaf Station to the Festival City Station on Dubai Creek as part of a trial run.

The abra, which can carry eight passengers, was manufactured at Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority's Al Garhoud Marine Maintenance Centre.

The design aims to preserve the traditional look of the popular boats — which remain a familiar sight cruising on Dubai Creek — while embracing a transport vision of the future.

Mattar Al Tayer, director general of the RTA, said the move was in line with Dubai's plans for 25 per cent of all journeys to be made using autonomous transport by 2030.

"It also contributes to the realisation of Dubai’s master plan to curb carbon emissions of public transport means as per the requirements of the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy,” Mr Al Tayer added.

“The Autonomous Electric Abra boasts superb features highlighted by zero-carbon emissions, lower operating and maintenance costs by 30 per cent, and the elimination of noise compared to diesel-powered models.

"It is equipped with two electric motors with a maximum speed of seven knots [13kph]. It has an autonomous control system and four lithium batteries that ensure an operating time of seven hours.

"RTA adopted new technologies in designing the structure of the Autonomous Electric Abra and used fibreglass in the hull to reduce the weight.”

Trials of the abra have included operating independently of the captain, who acts only as supervisor to intervene only if needed.

Abra expansion plans

The vessel's autonomous technology allows for it to stick to a given route and take wind and wave factors into consideration.

The self-driving protocols ensure the boat is able to detect obstacles in its path, notify the control centre of any system defect or deviation from the operating plan, intervene if the abra faces an obstacle during the journey and programme additional scenarios to cope with the situation.

“RTA has developed a master plan to develop the marine transport means, which is vital for the smooth mobility in the emirate," Mr Al Tayer said.

"Marine transport ferried about 16 million riders in 2022. The plan includes the development of four traditional abra stations in Dubai Creek, namely Bur Dubai, Deira Old Souk, Dubai Old Souk and Al Sabkha Stations.

"The plan envisages increasing the capacity of the abra stations by 33 per cent, using advanced technologies to reduce maintenance costs and increase the lifespan of assets, improving the lighting of stations and marinas, and providing facilities for customers and investment areas."

It is the latest move to modernise the UAE's beloved abras.

In 2020, Dubai unveiled a next generation fleet of high-powered wooden abras as part of a major drive to boost the emirate's marine transport sector.

The time-honoured design of the boats was overhauled to bolster safety standards and improve access for people with disabilities.

Changes included designated spaces for two wheelchairs, life jackets placed under seats and the use of GPS technology, cameras and card payment systems.

Dubai's autonomous vision

In April, a fleet of five electric cars mapped out the roads of Dubai to help drive forward ambitious plans for the introduction of autonomous public transport in the emirate.

The Chevrolet Bolts drove around Jumeirah 1 to test technology and gather data on traffic signals, road signs and drivers' behaviour.

The RTA has entered into a public-private partnership with US company Cruise to oversee the introduction of self-driving taxis.

Ten automated taxis are expected to begin to carry passengers late this year.

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.

Updated: May 14, 2023, 9:16 AM