UAE gets self-driving cars in the fast lane

The UAE's strong push for the autonomous vehicles is driven by Dubai

A driverless car controlled by a Huawei Mate 10 Pro mobile is pictured during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain February 26, 2018.

A driverless car controlled by a Huawei Mate 10 Pro mobile is pictured during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain February 26, 2018.

REUTERS/Yves Herman

The UAE continues to lead the region and remains among the world's top 10 countries that are best prepared for driverless vehicles, thanks to its world-class road infrastructure, the change readiness of its technology infrastructure, government's readiness and strong acceptance by the consumers.

According to the KPMG's 2019 Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index, the UAE slipped one place to 9 as compared to last year's ranking but was placed ahead of many developed countries like Japan, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, France, South Korea, China and Spain among others.

Globally, the Netherlands and Singapore maintained their first and second positions, respectively, for the second consecutive year followed by Norway, the US, Sweden, Finland, the UK, Germany, the UAE and Japan rounding off the top 10 in terms of their preparedness for autonomous vehicles.

The UAE's strong push for the autonomous vehicles is driven by Dubai as the government intends to make 25 per cent of all transportation autonomous by 2030. Launched in 2016, Dubai Autonomous Transportation Strategy to focus on environmental and efficiency improvements which is likely to generate Dh22 billion activity annually.

The strategy will also help cut transportation costs by 44 per cent, resulting in savings of up to Dh900 million a year. It will also help save Dh1.5 billion a year by reducing environmental pollution by 12 per cent, as well as generate Dh18 billion in annual economic returns by increasing the efficiency of the transportation sector in Dubai by 2030.

Dubai Silicon Oasis also spearheading the efforts in Dubai to introduce AVs as the Roads and Transport Authority began trial run of first driverless cab earlier this year.

In addition, Masdar City in Abu Dhabi has transported more than two million people on its Personal Rapid Transit driverless pods since 2010, running on special guideways. In October 2018, the city launched a regular AV minibus service, with plans to launch seven more in 2019, it said.

Ravi Suri, partner, global head of Infrastructure Finance, KPMG Lower Gulf, said autonomous vehicles offer tremendous social and environmental benefits. There is already a huge acceleration in investment in AV technology, including policy adoption by governments to encourage AVs.

"With Dubai's enthusiasm for technological innovations, in particular its forays into artificial intelligence and blockchain, the UAE is well-positioned to do even better in the future. These are technologies that should enable the introduction of AVs," Suri said.

"The initiatives undertaken by the UAE government to make automation and AVs a reality reinforce the possibility of a future where people live cleaner, more efficient and safer lives. The UAE is already a leading international tourist destination, and greater investments in new technologies across industries in the near future will enhance its image and make it an even more competitive destination for leisure and business, and a leader in the adoption of smart solutions," he added.

The UAE-based automotive company W Motors has announced that it would unveil its fully-electric and autonomous vehicle Muse at Auto Shanghai on April 16.

Ralph Debbas, founder and CEO of W Motors, has said that autonomous vehicles will change the way people travel and connect with one another. "As a UAE-based company, it is an exciting achievement for us to be leading the way in the region's development within this sector."

Jorge Bialade, general manager, YallaMotor, said many vehicles sold in the market today can virtually drive themselves but there are a few barriers that need to be crossed first.

"One that comes to mind is vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Apart from that, autonomous vehicles are exciting and there's surely demand from those who travel long distances or spend hours in peak traffic on a daily basis," he added.

He advised that the first step the UAE government should take is to educate the masses and prove to them that autonomous vehicles are a safe mode of transportation. "This could perhaps be done by implementing a few autonomous taxis and buses into public transport fleets across the country."

Among the four sub-indices, KPMG study revealed that the UAE's was rated 5th for infrastructure; 7th for consumer acceptance; 11th for policy and legislation readiness; and 14th for technology and innovation.

Currently, a large number of global players are trying to take lead in this field by pumping billions of dollars into research and development of driverless vehicles. They include auto giants like Ford, Honda, Tesla, BMW, Nissan, GM and Toyota among others and tech firms like Apple, Google, Uber, Samsung and others.

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