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Dubai digital maps get self-driving on the road

US firm Cruise is using Chevrolet EVs to prepare maps for self-driving vehicles
  • Plans for 4,000 self-driving vehicles in operation by 2030

Digital maps are being created in Dubai in preparation for the launch of self-driving vehicles in the city next year.

US-based Cruise will this month operate two Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles to prepare the maps for the company’s self-driving vehicles which are scheduled to be on the road in Dubai in 2023, making it the city the first in the world outside the US to allow them to operate.

The emirate plans to have 4,000 autonomous vehicles operating in the city, transforming 25 percent of total mobility journeys by 2030 under the Dubai Smart Self-Driving Transport Strategy. 

The move comes as part of directives from Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, crown prince of Dubai and chairman of Dubai Executive Council, to proceed with a previous partnership agreement signed between Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) and Cruise to operate autonomous vehicles to offer taxi and e-hail services there.

The two Chevrolet Bolt EVs will initially be deployed on streets in Jumeirah. Cruise’s technology uses a high-resolution map of the physical environment using mapping vehicles equipped with a suite of sensors.

Cruise is the majority-owned autonomous vehicle subsidiary of General Motors.

Mattar Al Tayer, director-general and chairman of the RTA, said: “Preparing digital maps is an essential step in the process of operating self-driving Cruise Origin vehicles, which will be deployed in limited numbers next year to offer taxi and e-hail services. 

“We have plans to increase the number of deployed vehicles gradually to reach up to 4,000 vehicles by 2030, enhancing Dubai’s pioneering role in self-driving transport. 

“It fits well with the RTA’s first and last-mile strategy approved last year relating to the first and last sectors of journeys from and to the nearest public transport points. It consists of two sections: groups and individuals,” Al Tayer added.

In April 2021, the authority signed an agreement with Cruise that was the first of its kind worldwide between a government entity and a company in the field of autonomous vehicles.

Self-driving transport has long been a goal of the transportation technology research community. As far back as the 1970s, early efforts in the US and the UK produced limited self-driving functionalities in automobiles. 

What was once a distant goal is now becoming a reality. Today, Dubai Metro is one of the largest self-driving public transportation systems in the world. Global studies suggest that the benefits could be far-reaching, ranging from highway safety benefits to reduced parking costs, reduced mobility costs, environmental benefits, improved productivity, to quality of life and citizen happiness. 

The challenges are further raised by the extreme weather conditions and the diverse cultural mix of drivers in the emirate, and it is estimated that these benefits would be valued at more than AED22 billion per year.

As well as taxis, the Dubai government is also focusing on self-driving buses, as it targets more autonomous journeys. In May, the RTA launched its third Dubai World Challenge for Self-Driving Transport 2023 in which candidates will compete for prize money amounting to $2.3 million.

Finalists will be announced in October this year, and winners will be revealed in October 2023 during the Dubai World Congress for Self-Driving Transport 2023. 

The inclusion of self-driving buses highlights the RTA’s commitment to support the efforts of Dubai’s government in expanding the use of autonomous technologies.

Last week, Dubai-based investment firm Negma Group signed a $36 million funding agreement with French firm Navya, which could lead to more driverless vehicles in the emirate.

Negma will make an initial injection of $2.56 million, which will be used by Navya to improve its cash flow, finance a plan to scale up its industrialisation plan, and speed up its entry into more overseas markets.