Dubai's autonomous public transport drive is moving into the fast lane as a cutting-edge vision for self-driving taxis, buses and abras takes shape.
A glimpse of the public transport network of the future was on display on the opening day of the Dubai World Congress for Self-Driving Transport on Tuesday.
The high-tech event, held at Dubai World Trade Centre, offered a platform for academics and businesses to provide sustainable solutions to the road traffic challenges of today.
Chinese firm King Long shared a $2 million prize with Egyptian firm BrightDrive for their self-driving public buses, in a competition organised by the emirate's Roads and Transport Authority.
Enterprising students from Heriot-Watt University came out on top of the academic category and walked away with a $100,000 prize.
Transport chiefs offered an update on key projects at the heart of Dubai's push for 25 per cent of all journeys to be made using autonomous means by 2030.
In a similar project to food delivery robots launched this year, autonomous buses were tested in Dubai Silicon Oasis to find which vehicles performed the best.
The RTA said further tests would now continue to roll-out driverless bus services in some parts of Dubai.
“We’ve selected the most mature companies to integrate, that could actually go through regulation and further testing (in Dubai),” said Khaled Al Awadhi, director of transport systems at the RTA.
“We will not run these everywhere in the city because the digital infrastructure is still required to do the mapping of the city.
“We will be starting with a zone service like an area or district that serves several communities, such as Jumeirah.
“There are already predefined routes where we can run a self-driving automated service.”
Winners in the automated bus industry category will be offered the opportunity to meet existing ride hailing services like Careem and Uber, and the RTA’s on-demand bus service using Via technology, to explore operating in Dubai.
The driverless King Long minibus has already been used in Abu Dhabi, transporting passengers around Yas Island, and the same vehicles are already in action across some 35 cities in China.
Engineers said more than 1 million kilometres of travel had been recorded by the King Long buses in China, without a collision report.
Driverless taxis to hit the road
The RTA is set to launch five driverless taxis from October 1 in Jumeirah 1 to continue testing of Dubai’s first autonomous taxi service operated in partnership with Cruise.
Passengers will not be travelling in the vehicles until December, once the final safety tests have been completed, while testing is also under way on autonomous abras for travel across Dubai Creek, Mr Al Awadhi said.
“These Cruise taxis have been running for months to learn routes and understand the digital mapping,” said Mr Al Awadhi.
“We know Dubai is very different to San Francisco where these vehicles have been operating.
“The positioning of the traffic light is different and you cannot make a right turn in the same way as the US.
“Also, the cars have been getting used to recognising people and the way they dress, women wearing a hijab, for example.
“Now we are ready to start the actual operation where the driver will take their hands off (the wheel) and the vehicle will drive itself.”
The autonomous bus category was the third edition of the Dubai World Challenge for self-driving transport.
It followed similar competitions for drones and last mile food delivery.
Competition criteria included credibility and vision, innovation, the relevance of skills and expertise, and commercial elements like operability and the value-added.
Winners in the academic section of the bus challenge were selected from Heriot-Watt University.
A team of five students developed a Virtual Reality simulation to improve passenger experience on public transport.
“Through this application, people can experience the immersive experience of being in an automated bus of the future, to help the RTA develop their services,” said Mohamed Al Musla, assistant professor of automotive engineering at Heriot-Watt University in Dubai.
“The students focused on many aspects including security, the monitoring of accidents and emergency passenger contacts.
“They also looked at covering tourist attractions while on the go.
“That’s very important for the city where there are lots of tourists around and sometimes they just don't know which way to go and how to access public transport.”