DUBAI // A US software company testing a robot taxi service in Singapore says the UAE would be an ideal testing ground for its driverless cars.
Doug Parker, chief operating officer of nuTonomy, said it was also a viable market for the taxi service, which he claimed would reduce traffic accidents.
“It’s a great market for a number of reasons,” he said. “It has good geography, no snow, no rain and good regulations.
“We’re intrigued. We’d love to come and learn more. We’ve had conversations with countries and we’re still open to where our second and third markets will be.”
Mr Parker would not say if his company was talking to parties in the UAE. But he insisted driverless vehicles would vastly improve safety.
“A driverless car never drinks, it never gets a phone call or a text message, and the sensors are 360 degrees,” he said.
“We would also like get the cars to talk to each other so if it sees a car braking hard in front of it, it can tell the 10 cars behind it to slow down and be careful.”
Mr Parker said nuTonomy believed driverless vehicles would mostly be used in fleets and not owned by private drivers, which would add to road safety.
“As a technology developer, I don’t want to have to explain why there was an accident in our car,” he said. “I have a huge incentive to make sure our cars are as safe as possible.
“I am convinced that driverless cars are going to be at least 95 per cent, maybe 98 per cent, safer than human drivers.”
More than 90 per cent of accidents involve driver error, and machines have been proven to drive more reliably than people, said Lee Woodcock, global product director for intelligent mobility at engineering consultancy Atkins.
“The potential is particularly acute here in the UAE because there are more than 200 nationalities on the roads, with very contrasting driving cultures and expectations,” Mr Woodcock said.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said he would like driverless transport to account for 25 per cent of journeys in the emirate by 2030.
A test run for a 10-seat autonomous car over a 700-metre track will take place in Downtown Dubai today.
“The trial run of the smart vehicle at Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard represents phase one of this technology,” said Mattar Al Tayer, director general of the Roads and Transport Authority. “This experiment is also part of the RTA’s plan to test driverless transit technology under the climatic environment of Dubai.”
NuTonomy is conducting its trial in Singapore’s One-North business park.
Some residents were invited to use the company’s smartphone app to book a free ride in a self-driving car.
The rides are offered in a Renault Zoe or Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric vehicle. An engineer from nuTonomy accompanies the passengers to monitor system performance and assume control if needed.
Data collected will enable the company to refine its software for the launch of a widely available commercial robo-taxi service in Singapore in 2018.
Mr Parker said that the target was to have a dozen driverless cars by the end of this year, adding that the company hoped to have hundreds by 2018 and thousands by 2020.
* Additional reporting by Ramona Ruiz