Dubai is “not very far away” from becoming possibly the world’s first city to have driverless transport, according to a senior Dubai official.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Dubai World Congress for Self-Driving Transport, Ahmed Bahrozyan, CEO of Public Transport Agency of RTA Dubai commented that the Emirate is already trialling several transport modes, including a helicopter taxi.

Shaikh Maktoum Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, officially inaugurated the 2019 Congress. He presented awards to the winners of ‘Dubai World Challenge for Self-Driving Transport’, accompanied by Mattar Al Tayer, chairman of the board of executive directors and director-general of the RTA. Bahrozyan added that Dubai’s first driverless taxis will initially have a “safety driver” on board as a precaution until the technology is “100 percent mature”.

Shaikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum (centre) with key leaders of the Dubai World Congress for Self-Driving Transport 2019.

“Dubai has been at forefront of this for the last several years… I can think of no better place as the laboratory for some of these projects than Dubai. It has one of the lowest road fatalities per 100,000 population in the world… and it has the largest driverless metro network,” says Sterling Anderson, co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Aurora Innovation.

Why go autonomous?

Sterling Anderson, co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Aurora Innovation, who delivered the global keynote at the Congress, noted that autonomous cars will actually make roads safer. He noted that not only do motorists account for 1.3 million road fatalities a year worldwide, the cars also “idle” 90 percent of the time, taking up parking space that could instead be used for public benefit.

He added that cameras, sensors, radars, AI, and software used by driverless cars are advancing rapidly. Around 100 cities already have the supporting legislation and trials in place today.

Response to autonomous mobility

A crucial concern to resolve is peoples’ perception of self-driving transport. Bahrozyan said, “You can have the most advanced technology but if people are worried about their safety, they will not readily use self-driving vehicles.”

However, human error accounts for 90 percent of accidents, he added. “I feel we are not very far away, but what’s more important than the timeline, is that we are ready as a city to be a leader in the world, so others can follow.”

NAVYA, a French autonomous shuttle manufacturer, took home the Durability and Reliability prize at the Congress.

Bahrozyan’s views are echoes by Anderson. “Dubai has been at forefront of this for the last several years… I can think of no better place as the laboratory for some of these projects than Dubai, which is ranked number one in the world for road infrastructure quality, nine in overall autonomous vehicle readiness by KPMG. It has one of the lowest road fatalities per 100,000 population in the world… and it has the largest driverless metro network,” he said.

Winners of Dubai World Challenge for Self-Driving Transport 2019

French companies were at the forefront, sweeping prizes worth $3 million. Gaussin won the Sustainability and Energy award. NAVYA swept the Durability and Reliability award along with Customers’ Experience award. In the start-ups category, Finnish firm Sensible 4 took home the $1 million prize, followed by iAuto from Taiwan and UAE-based Derq Company.

Amongst international universities, Freie Berlin received $200,000. Carlos III de Madrid University secured the first runner-up position, receiving $100,000. Australian University UTS came in third.

Dubai University topped the local contenders list, winning $200,000, followed by UAE University, with Al Ain University placing third.