‘Robot cars’ wait for green light as Dubai studies test drive

Transport authority says it is looking at whether to allow tests of driverless cars

Ben Flanagan
Ben Flanagan - Al Arabiya News, Dubai
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Dubai is considering tests of ‘robot’ or driverless cars on its busy highways, the local transport agency said, after a Google executive told Al Arabiya News he would “love” to bring the technology to the emirate.

So-called driverless cars navigate traffic and road signals automatically, using special sensors like radar, GPS and computer vision.

Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) says it is considering whether to allow tests of the robot cars, and how they may perform given the current road network and conditions.

“The RTA is currently studying the feasibility of testing the driverless cars with reference to the current traffic system, its adaptability to the technology and several other factors,” Abdul Mohsin Ibrahim Younes, the chief executive for strategy and corporate governance at the RTA, told Al Arabiya News.

Younes did not give any timeframe for possible tests, when asked about the legality of using driverless cars on the streets of Dubai.

Several major car manufacturers including GM, Ford and Volkswagen are testing driverless car systems. But one of the best-known projects is by the internet giant Google, which has been conducting tests of its autonomous vehicles for several years.

Mohamad Mourad, regional manager for Google in the Middle East and North Africa, recently told Al Arabiya News that he would “love” to bring driverless cars to Dubai.

“Will we see driverless cars in Dubai in the next five years? Maybe, yes. It’s not on my to-do list. But I would love to, yes,” said Mourad.

“The challenge there is first of all cost, for it to become accessible for everyone. And the other thing is regulation – to be able to get these cars on the streets around the world.”

Dubai and the wider UAE has some of the most deadly roads in the world. Car travellers are roughly twice as likely to die in an accident here compared with the global average, according to 2009 figures.

While the technology behind driverless cars is still undergoing testing, Mourad pointed to the safety features of such vehicles.

“It’s definitely safe and I think it has an incredible safety record,” he said. “Eric Schmidt, our chairman, says [that he’d] rather have a driverless car the way it is today than have someone drinking and driving.”

Despite Mourad’s remarks, a Google spokeswoman insisted there are no current plans for driverless cars in the region.

“Google has no plans to bring driverless cars to the Middle East,” the spokeswoman told Al Arabiya News.

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