Dubai serves as the launchpad for all things futuristic. It’s a city that integrates its rich past into the innovations of the future. The city has built things even as the world debated its feasibility. The world’s tallest building (Burj Khalifa), an island shaped like the palm (Palm Jumeirah), a museum that sits along the busiest highway in the country (Museum of the Future), a snow resort in the desert (Ski Dubai) … the list is endless.
Tourists and residents in Dubai are now looking forward to the city’s bright driverless future. Here, the concept is not some vague idea that may or may not materialise in the future. Some autonomous modes of transport already exist, while others are being trialled. The sector got a major boost when His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, issued a law last month regulating the operations of autonomous vehicles.
Here are seven modes of transport that have taken off in Dubai without anyone in the driving seat.
1. Driverless abra
The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) picked up the most traditional mode of transport in Dubai and gave it a futuristic makeover. A driverless boat plied between Al Jaddaf and the Festival City station on the Dubai Creek recently, marking one of the world’s first marine trials in passenger transport. Radars and cameras on the boat help it see and navigate, while its high-tech control system ensures it did not deviate from its pre-defined path, despite winds and waves.
2. Cabs without cabbies
A key Dubai street is now being mapped to launch self-driving ride-hail services by the end of the year. The RTA and Cruise, a self-driving technology company, have initiated data collection and testing of its technology for traffic signals, signage, and drivers’ behaviour in the Jumeirah 1 area. Ten self-driving taxis will be deployed for public use in the area before this year ends.
3. Food delivery, but no riders
A fleet of robots has joined delivery riders in feeding residents in Dubai Silicon Oasis. Talabat recently launched a pilot project, where its so-called ‘Talabots’ travel at 8kmph to deliver food to residents.
During the pilot phase, the bots serve residents of Cedre Villas, a gated community in the heart of DSO. They travel within a 3-kilometre radius from the Cedre Shopping Centre launch point to ensure a speedy 15-minute delivery time.
4. Explore the palm without a guide
Palm Jumeirah is among the most stunning neighbourhoods in Dubai that has been reclaimed from the sea. Shaped like the palm tree, a monorail has been laid right through its trunk — from its foot to the Atlantis. What’s more, it’s driverless.
5. Take off into the skies without a pilot
Earlier this year, the Dubai Ruler said flying taxis would take off in the Emirate by 2026. A video he shared shows air taxis whizzing past popular Dubai landmarks like the Burj Khalifa, Dubai Frame and Burj Al Arab. The aerial taxis will have top speeds of 300kmph, with a maximum range of 241km. It will seat a pilot and four passengers. However, the project is part of Dubai’s strategy to convert 25 per cent of mobility means into driverless journeys by 2030. This means autonomous flying taxis could take off soon.
6. The most affordable way to go around Dubai
This has to be Dubai’s first — and the most popular — foray into the world of driverless transportation. The Dubai Metro is the world's longest driverless rail system that has become the city’s lifeline. It recently hit a new milestone with over two billion riders since it first rolled out for mass use in September 2009.
7. Take a free bus ride on a historic journey
Learn all about Dubai’s historic advances in the sustainability field as you take a free bus ride from Dubai Electricity and Water Authority’s (Dewa)’s Innovation Centre at the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park.