I’ve spent a lot of time in the UAE, and I’ve long said it would be one of the first places to implement robotaxis on a large scale. Word today is that it has placed an order with Cruise.
The city of Dubai reports that it will be the first non-US city in the world to put the Cruise Origin (pictured above) on the road, via the government’s Road & Transport Authority (RTA).
Speaking with Rob Grant, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Social Impact at Cruise, recently, he mentioned that some big news was coming — I expect this is it. We talked a bit about the ideal vehicle for robotaxis, and Rob stood by Cruise’s case from pre-pandemic that it was indeed the Origin. Apparently, Dubai agrees. Or, at the very least, city city sees Cruise as a true leader in autonomous driving and wanted to get into the game ASAP. The UAE is obsessed with superlatives, and leadership in the country must have seen Cruise as their best (or one of their best) options for setting some robotaxi records.
To start off, Dubai will be the first city in the world outside of the US to launch the Cruise Origin, which is apparently the first purpose-built all-electric self-driving vehicle.
The CEO of Cruise, Dan Ammann, was clever to highlight that self-driving vehicles are about improving safety and saving lives, rather than increasing risk (as some see the technology). He noted, “Dubai and the RTA’s forward-thinking framework to safely deploy self-driving vehicles will be an innovative model for government and industry working together to advance this life-saving technology.” How much will they actually improve safety? We don’t know, but we do know that most accidents on the road are caused by “Humanpilot,” as some Tesla fans call it. The Dubai–Cruise announcement notes that “over 90% of accidents are due to human errors.”
Deployment of Cruise Origins will begin in 2023, indicating that Cruise is ready to sell the vehicles but not quite ready to deliver them, and Dubai aims to have 4,000 of these self-driving vehicles on the road by 2030. Cruise has an exclusive agreement to provide self-driving taxis and ride-hailing services to the city until 2029. This is all part of Dubai’s Self-Driving Transport Strategy, Mattar Mohammed Al Tayer, Director-General and Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of the RTA, notes.
Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of The Executive Council of Dubai, said, “This first-of-its-kind agreement strengthens Dubai’s leading role in self-driving transport.”
The Cruise Origin is fully electric, of course, which adds another cost-saving and pollution-cutting element to the plan. Dubai notes that Dubai’s 2030 self-driving vision includes an aim to “reduce transportation costs by AED900 million a year and save AED1.5 billion a year by reducing environmental pollution by 12 per cent.” They also expect that a more efficient transportation system will result in AED18 billion ($4.9 billion) a year of better economic returns.
“This agreement, which is the first of its kind worldwide between a government entity and a leading developer of autonomous vehicles, and autonomous vehicle technology, is a major step towards realising Dubai’s Self-Driving Transport Strategy aimed at converting 25% of total trips in Dubai into self-driving transport trips across different modes of transport by 2030,” Sheikh Hamdan noted.
“The selection of Cruise was not taken lightly. We engaged in a comprehensive, multi-year process to choose the best possible partner. Cruise’s technology, resources, purpose-built vehicle, automaker partnerships, approach to safe testing and deployment and strategy give them the ability to launch safely and faster than any other company. Preparations for the launch of the self-driving service will start shortly. The operation of Cruise self-driving vehicles will start with a limited number of vehicles in 2023, with plans to scale up to 4,000 vehicles by 2030,” commented Al Tayer.
“Self-driving vehicles will bring a fundamental shift in transportation and offer innovative solutions for mobility and congestion in the city. The introduction and operation of the vehicles will be gradual and begin in specific areas, scaling as the community experiences their safety and benefits first-hand. The vehicle will be fitted with state-of-the-art sensors to monitor road conditions, and controls to avoid collision with any objects – even with those the human eye cannot see,” he added.
For more on Cruise’s progress, see our recent podcast with Rob Grant: