Motionless behind the wheel, hands on his knees, Moustapha lets the robotaxi roll, alone, during a test in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, a rich oil country in the Gulf which wishes to strengthen the presence of these autonomous vehicles.
Driving has been “quiet” so far, without significant incident, reports Moustapha, safety manager during these tests, organized by Bayanat, a subsidiary of Group 42, specializing in artificial intelligence.
Four driverless vehicles, two electric and two hybrids, named TXAI, have been tested since November in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.
Customers can book a class through an app and be picked up and dropped off at nine defined locations on the man-made island of Yas.
“In recent days, most of our customers have ordered taxis in front of shopping centers or hotels,” explains Moustapha.
After the first phase of testing, a second will start in the Emirati capital, with at least ten vehicles, the company said.
Robotaxis have been tested in various countries in recent years. At the end of November, a fleet of 67 vehicles was put into service in Beijing, but always in the presence of a security guard in case of emergency.
“Going from level L3 (where a security guard is present) to level L4 (without an agent) would be an important step,” Hasan al-Hosani, CEO of Bayanat, who says in this direction with the authorities of Abu Dhabi.
The United Arab Emirates last month approved a temporary license to test self-driving cars on the roads, despite the absence of federal legislation on the matter, which is one of the biggest hurdles.
“This technology is new and regulations for safety and other operational aspects are under development,” says Hosani.
The neighboring emirate of Dubai hopes to achieve 25% driverless transport by 2030, in order to reduce costs, pollution and accidents, authorities hope.
Dubai also plans to launch a small fleet of autonomous taxis by 2023, state media said, and is targeting 4,000 vehicles in service by 2030.