Abu Dhabi: Mustafa sits behind the wheel with his hands turned upward as his taxi rolls by itself, bringing the UAE one step closer to a self-sustaining future.
The “security guard” is part of a trial for driverless taxis in the capital Abu Dhabi, where customers can be picked up and dropped off at nine predetermined locations on Yas Island.
So far, the race has gone smoothly, said Mustafa, with no incidents requiring major intervention.
“In recent days, most customers have ordered taxis at the mall or hotel,” he told AFP.
Bayanat, a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi-based technology company Group 42, launched the trial of four driverless vehicles, two electric and two hybrids, last month under the name TXAI.
A second phase will include at least 10 vehicles and multiple locations in Abu Dhabi, the company said. Customers can order vehicles using the TXAI app.
Robotaxis have been tested in various locations around the world in recent years, but commercial use of the vehicles has so far been tentative.
Last month, autonomous taxis were deployed in Beijing, but also with a security guard in place of the driver in the event of an emergency.
Bayanat CEO Hasan al-Hosani said the removal of security guards would be a major step.
“The milestone for moving from L3 (where a security guard is present) to L4 (without a security guard) would be important,” Hosani told AFP.
“The vehicles are already operational … We are working with the authorities to further expand our area of ââoperation geographically, as well as to upgrade to the L4 level.”
Abu Dhabi is not the only member of the United Arab Emirates considering a driverless future.
Neighboring Dubai has said he wants 25% of all transport to be driverless by 2030, reducing costs, pollution and accidents.
Dubai aims to launch a small fleet of self-driving taxis by 2023, according to state media, with plans to reach 4,000 by 2030.
The change is expected to affect taxi drivers, the vast majority of Asian migrant workers, in a country where foreigners make up 90 percent of the 10 million population.
The UAE last month approved a temporary license to test self-driving cars on the roads, but there is no federal legislation governing self-driving vehicles yet.
This remains one of the biggest obstacles.
âThis technology is new and regulations relating to security and other operational aspects are being developed in real time,â Hosani said.