The United Arab Emirates has issued the first national license for autonomous vehicles to the Chinese company WeRide. The permit authorizes WeRide to test its Level 4 autonomous vehicles on public roads nationwide.
Level 4 is an SAE designation that indicates a vehicle can handle all aspects of driving autonomously in certain conditions.
The license is a step toward the vision of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of the UAE, to have 25 percent of the country’s transportation be fully autonomous by 2030.
On Monday, the UAE’s Council of Ministers approved WeRide’s license and a national policy for electric vehicles. This policy includes the expansion of a national charging network, the regulation of the EV market, and the stimulation of related industries such as autonomous vehicles, which could reduce emissions and preserve road quality.
Dubai, the most populous city in the UAE, has hosted numerous driverless vehicle tests over the years. In 2019, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) of Dubai organized the World Conference on Self-Driving Transport, an event designed to bring together industry leaders in the field. This year’s conference will take place in September and will feature a competition in which companies and academic institutions will demonstrate autonomous bus solutions.
The RTA aims to reduce the number of vehicles on Dubai’s roads and increase the number of robots to 4,000 by 2030.
The city has also welcomed Cruise, a subsidiary of General Motors headquartered in San Francisco, to test and develop robots. In July 2022, Cruise began mapping Dubai in preparation for its 2023 launch. The company expects to deploy Cruise Origins, its purpose-built robot taxi, to the streets of Dubai this year. In April, Dubai’s RTA confirmed that Cruise has multiple autonomous Chevrolet Bolts—at least five can be seen in a video—collecting data and undergoing testing in the Jumeirah 1 coastal residential area.
Cruise did not respond to TechCrunch’s request for information regarding its upcoming launch in Dubai.
WeRide announced in a statement that it will begin testing “all types of self-driving vehicles” in the United States. The company intends to commercialize its autonomous driving technology for a variety of vehicles, including robot axis, robot buses, robot vans, and autonomous street sweepers.
WeRide has been testing robot taxis on public roads in the United Arab Emirates for the past year. In March, the company established its official presence in the China-UAE Industrial Capacity Cooperation Demonstration Zone, a Chinese state-owned zone that aims to promote industrial cooperation between the two nations.
The company did not respond in time to TechCrunch’s request for more information about its launch, including the initial markets it will target, the number of vehicles it plans to test, and its commercialization strategy.
WeRide has set its sights elsewhere in the Middle East, on Saudi Arabia. The company announced in September 2022 its intention to launch a robo-bus route in Saudi Arabia in collaboration with the Saudi Artificial Intelligence Company.
It is unclear what regulatory hurdles the UAE will require companies to jump in order to test, deploy, and commercialize autonomous vehicles in the country. RegLab, an initiative of the General Secretariat of the Cabinet, will conduct the testing, but neither it nor the RTA has responded to TechCrunch’s requests for additional information.
Regulation is more decentralized and run by local governments in the United States and China, where self-driving vehicle testing is most common.
In the United States, the majority of AV testing and commercialization have occurred in California and Arizona, but the two states have very different regulatory approaches. Two regulatory agencies—the California Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Public Utilities Commission—require businesses to obtain a series of permits to test, deploy, and charge for rides with and without human safety drivers. WeRide is currently authorized by the California DMV to test autonomous vehicles with and without a driver.
In Arizona, companies are only required to self-certify that their vehicles meet the minimum risk condition of being able to stop safely in the event of a system failure.