Driverless cars could be on the road in time for Expo 2020

The vehicles are already making their way on to the market and are predicted to change the face of global transport over the next six years, delegates were told.

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DUBAI // Driverless electric cars, guided by laser and radar, could be a common sight on Dubai’s roads by the time it hosts Expo 2020.

The cars are already heading to the market and are predicted to change the face of global transport over the next six years, delegates at the first morning of the Government Summit in Dubai were told.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, was among the crowd at a discussion on the computer-driven cars at Madinat Jumeirah.

“Energy efficiency will be improved and electric cars will be more viable, as the cars can recharge between trips,” said Brad Templeton, faculty member of Singularity University in California’s Silicon Valley.

“The computer will know when to refuel and the passenger doesn’t need to worry about it, since they only care if it will get them to their destination.”

Mr Templeton said the driverless cars would be safer, cause fewer accidents and less congestion, and be more efficient.

They will reduce time spent driving and allow land used for parking to make way for reserves and green spaces.

The vehicles could be a way of making the emirate’s roads safer, said Mattar Al Tayer, chairman and executive director of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA).

“In 2005, Dubai witnessed 22 accidents per 100,000 people, which cost the emirate Dh4 billion,” said Mr Al Tayer.

“This has been reduced to just six accidents per 100,000 people thanks to a robust infrastructure and new laws and regulations.

“When it comes to transport infrastructure and mobility policies, it is very costly. We can use low-cost transport to solve traffic problems by focusing on public transport, such as maritime, buses and metro.”

Driverless cars have the capacity to increase traffic capacity by 15 times, said Mr Templeton, adding Google had already clocked 1 million kilometres in its driverless vehicles.

“If one country doesn’t make this legal, others will,” he said.

To address the problem of conventional cars crowding the emirate’s highways, Mr Al Tayer repeated his calls for laws to limit ownership of private vehicles and promote the use of public transport, especially among youths.

“Since 2005, Dubai has spent Dh7bn on infrastructure,” he said. “The Dubai Metro, which is driverless, is doing very well and carries 50,000 passengers each day.

“In 2005, 6 per cent of the population used public transport and now it is 12 per cent. We are aiming for 20 per cent by 2020.”

Mr Al Tayer said international consultants had been appointed to examine the UAE’s infrastructure ahead of Expo 2020, which is expected to attract 25 million visitors over six months.

They will look at the extension of the Red Line of Dubai Metro to Al Maktoum International Airport, and advise on crowd management and increasing the emirate’s fleet of buses and taxis.

“In addition to the extension of the Red Line, the RTA is also developing Al Sufouh Tram which will be complete in November 2014, and also expects to introduce electric cars and maritime transport in the future,” said Mr Al Tayer.

He said the RTA might look into using cable cars to increase access to some communities, such as those on islands.