Transport chiefs in Abu Dhabi are to introduce driverless taxis in the emirate this year, in the latest step forward for the cutting-edge technology.
The Department of Municipalities and Transport partnered with Bayanat, part of the G42 group, to lead the trial use of autonomous vehicles.
The first phase of the high-tech project will feature three self-driving vehicles providing free transport services from hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and offices at Yas Mall.
More than 10 vehicles will hit the roads for the second stage of the futuristic initiative, which will extend to locations across the capital.
The trial run will begin in the final quarter of 2021.
The service, free of charge in both phases, will be provided from 8am to 8pm.
Although the vehicles are driverless, a safety officer will be present in the driving seat during the pilot scheme to intervene in the event of any issues occurring.
Abu Dhabi's Integrated Transport Centre will be responsible for establishing the necessary infrastructure for the use of self-driving vehicles within the transport network.
Bayanat will carry out comprehensive safety testing and ensure the vehicles operate in line with traffic regulations.
“Our partnership with DMT and ITC opens up new and exciting opportunities to transform the transport sector, improve road safety, energy consumption, traffic congestion and revolutionising the way people live, work and travel,” said Hasan Al Hosani, chief executive of Bayanat.
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Mr Al Hosani said self-driving vehicles heavily rely on geospatial data, advanced mapping and artificial intelligence capabilities and Bayanat had the right mix of expertise and technology to contribute to the growth of this industry in the UAE.
Autonomous transport has been high on the agenda in the Emirates for years.
In July, the UAE ranked eighth in KPMG's annual Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index, performing well in technology infrastructure and the willingness of its people and government to embrace driverless cars.
The UAE is continuing with its strategy of making 25 per cent of transport autonomous by 2030, a move that began in 2016.
In 2019, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, issued a directive to regulate testing of self-driving vehicles in the emirate.
The Dubai Executive Council resolution was part of the first phase of a legislative framework being created to ensure the vehicles are safe to hit the road.
Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority was tasked with ensuring safety standards are met during testing.
The RTA will also be responsible for providing licences to operators and making sure they comply with regulations.
A fleet of driverless shuttles was tested in Sharjah last year.
The eco-friendly vehicles, operated by UAE smart transport firm Ion, were put through their paces in the sprawling University City of Sharjah education district.
The next generation vehicles, which took students between colleges, were equipped with 3D vision, environment recognition, automatic route navigation, sensors and motion-detecting doors.
The smart shuttles are emissions-free, accessible by wheelchair and can carry up to 15 passengers.