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WeRide, Obtains Self-Driving Vehicle License from UAE

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken a significant step towards achieving its ambitious goal of making 25% of the country’s transportation fully autonomous by 2030. The UAE’s Council of Ministers recently approved Chinese autonomous driving company WeRide’s application, granting them the first national license for testing Level 4 autonomous vehicles on public roads throughout the country. This move aligns with UAE ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s vision for a future with autonomous transportation. Alongside WeRide’s permit, the Council of Ministers also approved a national policy for electric vehicles (EVs), emphasizing the development of a charging network, regulating the EV market, and supporting related industries such as autonomous vehicles (AVs) to reduce emissions and maintain road quality.

UAE’s Commitment to Autonomous Vehicles

The UAE, particularly its populous city of Dubai, has been at the forefront of various driverless vehicle trials. In 2019, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) of Dubai organized the World Conference on Self-Driving Transport, aiming to bring together industry leaders to foster innovation in autonomous transportation. Continuing this momentum, the conference is scheduled for September this year, featuring a competition where companies and academic institutions will showcase their autonomous bus solutions.

Dubai’s RTA aims to limit vehicles on the roads and scale up robotaxi operations to 4,000 cars by 2030. To achieve this, they have partnered with Cruise, a GM subsidiary, for testing and developing robotaxi technology. The collaboration demonstrates Dubai’s commitment to innovative transportation solutions and establishes it as a global leader in autonomous vehicles.

WeRide’s Autonomous Initiatives

WeRide, the Chinese autonomous driving company, plans to test “all types of self-driving vehicles” in the UAE following the issuance of the national license. Over the past year, WeRide has been conducting robotaxi tests on selected public roads in the UAE. WeRide’s ultimate objective is to bring its self-driving technology to the commercial market, catering to a wide range of vehicle types. This includes not only robotaxis but also robobuses, robovans, and even autonomous street sweepers. Although further details regarding WeRide’s launch, targeted markets, vehicle quantity, and commercialization strategy were not provided at the time of reporting, the company’s establishment in the China-UAE Industrial Capacity Cooperation Demonstration Zone demonstrates its commitment to expanding its presence in the region.

Beyond the UAE, WeRide has expressed interest in Saudi Arabia. In September 2022, the company announced its collaboration with the Saudi Artificial Intelligence Company to launch a robobus route in Saudi Arabia, indicating its intent to expand its autonomous initiatives to neighboring countries in the Middle East.

Regulatory Framework in the UAE

While specific details on the regulatory process for testing, deploying, and commercializing autonomous vehicles in the UAE remain unclear, the testing procedure will be conducted by the RegLab, an initiative by the General Secretariat of the Cabinet. The RTA and the RegLab have not yet responded to requests for additional information regarding the regulatory framework. It is worth noting that in countries like the United States and China, where autonomous vehicle testing is prevalent, regulatory approaches tend to be more decentralized, with local governments playing a significant role.

For instance, in California, AV companies must obtain permits from the Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Public Utilities Commission to test, deploy, and offer rides with or without human safety drivers. WeRide currently holds permits from the California DMV to test AVs with and without drivers. Conversely, Arizona follows a self-certification approach, where companies need to ensure their vehicles can safely stop in case of system malfunctions.

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