The UAE has granted Chinese self-driving company WeRide the first nationwide license for self-driving vehicles. The permit allows WeRide to test its Level 4 autonomous vehicles on public roads across the country.
Level 4 is a designation of SAE this means that the vehicle can handle all aspects of driving under certain conditions without human intervention.
License is a step towards UAE ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s vision of doing 25% of the country’s transport will be fully autonomous by 2030.
The UAE Cabinet on Monday approved WeRide’s permit along with a national policy for electric vehicles. That policy includes building a national charging network, regulating the electric vehicle market, and stimulating related industries such as electric vehicles that could reduce emissions and preserve road quality.
The UAE, and especially its most populous city, Dubai, has hosted various driverless vehicle trials over the years. In 2019, the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) organized a Global Conference on Self-driving Transport, an event aimed at bringing together industry leaders in the space. This year’s conference is scheduled for September and features a competition where companies and academic institutions will present their autonomous bus solutions.
The RTA has a goal of limiting the number of vehicles on Dubai’s roads and increasing robotaxi operations to 4,000 vehicles by 2030.
The city also welcomed Cruise, a San Francisco-based subsidiary of General Motors, to test and develop robotaxis. Cruise began mapping Dubai in July 2022 in preparation for an expected 2023 launch. The company said it hopes to put Cruise Origins, its purpose-built robotaxi, on the streets of Dubai this year. Dubai RTA confirmed as of April that Cruise has several autonomous Chevy Bolts – at least five can be seen a movie — data collection and testing in the Jumeirah 1 area, a residential area on the coast.
Cruise did not respond to RockedBuzz’s request for updates on its expected launch in Dubai this year.
WeRide said in a declaration that it would begin testing “all types of self-driving vehicles” in the country. The company aims to commercialize its self-driving technology on a range of vehicles, including robotaxis, robobuses, robovans and autonomous street sweepers.
WeRide has been testing robotaxis on a few public roads in the UAE over the past year. In March, the company officially established its presence in the China-UAE Industrial Capacity Cooperation Demonstration Zone, a Chinese state-owned zone that aims to promote industrial cooperation between the two countries.
The company didn’t respond in time to RockedBuzz to provide more details about its launch, such as which markets it will target first, how many vehicles it plans to test, or how it plans to market.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, WeRide has set its sights on Saudi Arabia. The company announced in September 2022 its plans to partner with the Saudi Artificial Intelligence Company to launch a robobus route In Saudi Arabia.
It is unclear what kind of regulatory hoops the UAE will jump through for companies to test, deploy and market autonomous vehicles in the country. The testing process will be conducted by the RegLab, an initiative of the Cabinet General Secretariat, but neither that organization nor the RTA have responded to RockedBuzz’s requests for more information.
In the United States and China, where most self-driving vehicle testing is underway, there is a more decentralized approach to regulation led by local governments.
For example, in the US, California and Arizona have seen the most AV testing and commercialization, but the two states have very different regulatory methods. In California, companies must obtain a variety of permits to test, implement, and charge for manned and unmanned rides for human safety from two regulatory bodies: the Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Public Utilities Commission. WeRide currently holds up permits by the DMV to test driverless and manned AV in California.
Meanwhile in Arizona, companies need only self-certify that their vehicles meet the minimum risk condition to be able to stop safely in the event of a system malfunction.
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