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Abu Dhabi could be trailblazer for autonomous cars

Abu Dhabi street with traffic Unsplash/Zalfa Imani
The roads of Abu Dhabi will soon be home to more autonomous vehicles, according to Bayanat's predictions
  • Bayanat runs pilot scheme of 12 vehicles
  • CEO expects widespread use in ‘next five years’
  • Regulation challenges remain

Abu Dhabi will be one of the first cities in the world to introduce autonomous vehicles en masse, according to the CEO of tech firm Bayanat.

Bayanat uses artificial intelligence to provide geospatial data products and services. It is running a pilot scheme in the UAE capital, introducing eight autonomous vehicles, four minibuses and more than 15 charging stations in the city.

“I believe within the next five years we’ll see more and more autonomous cars within the streets of Abu Dhabi,” Bayanat CEO Hasan Al Hosani told AGBI. “We’re going to push hard to make sure that vision happens.”

Bayanat has tested self-driving vehicles on Yas Island and Saadiyat Island. It is majority-owned by G42, the Abu Dhabi artificial intelligence enterprise.

The company has been working with the Department of Municipalities and Transport and the Integrated Transport Centre.

It has also formed partnerships with businesses including China’s WeRide, which earlier this year received a first preliminary licence in the UAE to operate self-driving cars in the country.

Before receiving the licence, WeRide’s Robotaxi had completed public testing. It also offered free rides to visitors to Saadiyat Island and Yas Island in June in a vehicle called TXAI, launched in collaboration with Bayanat.

Rapid evolution

“We will see some cities grow faster than other cities, but from Abu Dhabi’s perspective we are very confident that we will be one of the fastest cities to evolve and deploy large-scale autonomous cars very soon,” said Al Hosani, a former officer in the UAE armed forces.

Shares in Bayanat were floated on the Abu Dhabi Exchange in October raising AED57.5 billion ($15.65 billion) in an initial public offering.

With the emergence of autonomous vehicles in the UAE, the challenges of regulation become evident. 

“Autonomous driving aims to transform road traffic, reducing accidents and congestion,” said Dr Hamad Khalifa Alnuaimi, head of telecommunications/IT at Abu Dhabi Police. “While progress has been significant, challenges remain in technology, human behaviour, ethics and legal aspects.”

Legal issues may include requirements for special licences and liability concerns that could impede widespread adoption.

“While there are aspirations for autonomous taxis and buses, the intricacies of liability and responsibility must be ironed out before these innovations hit the mainstream,” Alnuaimi added.

US-based Cruise said last year it planned to have its autonomous vehicles on Dubai’s roads in 2023.

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

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