You could soon be greeted by a car without a driver for your first and last-mile trips in Dubai as the winner of the Dubai World Challenge for Self-Driving Transport will soon start operating its vehicles in the city’s public transport fleet.

The Roads and Transport Authority of Dubai had announced the World Challenge in February 2017. The preliminary round of the contest saw as many as 65 participants from all over the world including industry leaders, start-ups as well as international and local universities. On Sunday, the RTA announced 17 finalists for the transport challenge across four categories. The winner of the first category will be awarded a place in Dubai’s first and last-mile fleet, along with a sum of a million dollars.

The Dubai World Challenge for Self-Driving Transport plays a significant role in Dubai’s strategy to proliferate the autonomous vehicle technology. The aim is to make Dubai a hub for smart transport solutions. “The Dubai World Challenge for Self-Driving Transport aims to broaden the use of self-driving transport. It seeks to encourage the leading companies to cope with the existing challenges of the First and Last Mile, traffic congestions and the drop in the public transport ridership. The driverless transport has become a key pillar of RTA’s strategy, and we are making every endeavour to make it a reality in Dubai,” said Mattar Al Tayer, director general and chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of RTA.

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Industry leaders in autonomous vehicle technology will compete against startups as well as universities.

While announcing the finalists of the Challenge, he also added that the RTA is currently collaborating with federal authorities to develop regulations and legislations covering the operation of autonomous vehicles on the UAE roads which will be ready for when the driverless vehicles of the challenge winner will roll out.

The first edition of the challenge is being jointly held by the RTA and Khalifa University. Industry leaders such as French firms NAVYA and EasyMile, Drive.ai of the US, Westfield of the UK, Chinese firm Baidu, and 2getthere from The Netherlands are among the finalists that will enter the next round of the challenge in 2019. Startups like UAE-based Derq, Sensible from Finland, and Taiwanese iAuto will also be contesting.

A fair number of local as well as international universities have also secured their places in the finals. These include Dubai University, UAE University, Al Ain University of Science and Technology, and Abu Dhabi University among the homegrown talent pool. International varsities and institutions such as Freie Berlin University, Carnegie Mellon University from the US, Intelligent Systems Lab from Spain, and Australia’s University of Technology Sydney (UTS) have also made it to the final round of the World Challenge.

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MIT spin-off Derq based out of the UAE is one of the finalists in the world challenge.

Finalist trials will be held early next year at three locations in Dubai. An international panel of judges will assess the vehicles based on a range of standards such as technical soundness, business operability as well as innovations in operating solutions.

Steven Shladover, Programme Manager, Mobility at the University of California who is also the head of the jury for the challenge said, “This is the biggest platform for all the innovators in self-driving technology to showcase their products and the competition is really tough and judging is not a simple task. The challenge will definitely help scale up the technology from the testing level to the level of operations as a public transport solution.”

The tests for all the categories will be held from February to August 2019. The winners will be announced in October 2019 at the first ever Dubai World Conference for Self Driving Transport.