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Dubai testing the use of autonomous pods for public transportation

The Dubai Government is trialling the use of world’s first autonomous pods for public transportation. The project is developed by The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), in cooperation with Next Future Transportation. It is part of RTA’s efforts under Dubai Future Accelerators (DFA [1]) initiatives. The initial tests were conducted on the sidelines of the World Government Summit (WGS).

The autonomous pods are designed to travel short and medium distances in dedicated lanes. They can be coupled together in as little as 15 seconds or detached – depending on the riders’ destination – in five seconds. Each pod is fitted with cameras and electromechanical technologies to carry out the coupling and detaching processes, which can be activated while in motion.

Each pod can accommodate ten riders (six seated, four standing) and it measures 2.87m in length, 2.24m in width and 2.82m in height, weighing about 1,500kg. The autonomous pods have an average speed of 20km/h and they are fitted with a battery that supports 3 hours of operation, and can be fully charged in 6 hours. 

The autonomous pods have three protection systems to ensure full control and avoid accidents. The main system comprises 3D cameras, and the second one is a standby system based on ordinary cameras, and the last is operated manually by the operator.

Mattar Al Tayer, Director-General and Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of the RTA, said, “The pilot test of driverless units is directed by His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in the context of transforming Dubai into the smartest city worldwide. It is also part of RTA’s endeavours to provide autonomous transport by carrying out technological tests under Dubai’s climatic conditions.” “The RTA has signed an agreement with the American Next Future Inc. to develop autonomous units named (NX1) as part of the initial phase of Dubai Future Accelerators. The prototypes of these units are manufactured in Italy and shipped to Dubai for trials. These pods run on a virtual pre-configured and programmed lane and are overseen by the operational system,” Al Tayer added. 

These trials are aligned with the Dubai Autonomous Transport Strategy which aims to convert 25% of mobility journeys in Dubai to autonomous transportation by 2030

RTA seeks to develop and introduce a range of enablers to realise the objectives of the self-driving strategy. These include enacting legislations and rules for self-driving transport, enhancing public adaptability to this technology, developing the appropriate conditions and regulations for testing & licensing of self-driving vehicles, chalking up a structure for related insurance & liability, and addressing infrastructure requirements.  

Enablers would also include development of a framework for cybersecurity and technology-driven communication system to ensure effective communication & interaction between vehicles.

Recently, RTA signed a preliminary Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with HERE Technologies for a long-term technology collaboration to map the city with high definition (HD) technology.

RTA has been conducting trials of autonomous vehicles for public transport. Last year, RTA signed an agreement with the German Company,  VOLOCOPTER, a specialist in the manufacturing of Autonomous Air Vehicles for tests of manned Autonomous Air Taxi (AAT). 

[1] The DFA programme was launched in July 2016. DFA is not a traditional accelerator teaching entrepreneurs how to write a business plan. The aim is to accelerate the building of a relationship between companies and government, with the final objective being companies receiving a MOU (or other commercial agreement) to deliver a funded pilot project after the program ends.

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