Accelerating adoption of autonomous driving in the Middle East

Camil TahanThe COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing with contactless interactions has accelerated the mass pilot programmes of autonomous car technologies, with a number of public and private organisations around the world using autonomous cars for the transportation of passengers, medical supplies, food, and parcels

In view of the potential benefits of autonomous cars, governments in the Middle East have the opportunity to seize the initiative and start creating the right conditions for their adoption, as it offers significant benefits in terms of transport efficiency, safety and an improved urban environment, according to Strategy& Middle East, part of the PwC network.

The global market for autonomous car technology is growing rapidly. It was estimated at US$54bn in 2019 and is expected to increase to US$557bn by 2026, according to Allied Market Research. Almost 100 cities worldwide have some form of pilot programme underway, but many of them have focused on the scope of testing that companies can carry out on public roads. China, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden, the UK and the USA have all led regulatory efforts to promote safe testing of self-driving cars.

However, despite significant progress in recent years, there are significant barriers to adoption, including communication protocols, infrastructure standards and liability considerations.

Within the region, the Dubai Government aims for a quarter of transportation to be autonomous in the emirate by 2030. Towards this direction, in early 2020, Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) enacted new legislation for individuals, companies and public entities who want to introduce self-driving modes of transport in the emirate. Public transport modes such as first-mile-last-mile shuttles, BRT are making considerable progress towards achieving self-driving functionalities. Similarly, from the private sector, companies such as Noon.com have announced their intentions to test driverless vehicles designed to make last-mile deliveries in the UAE and Saudi Arabia in 2019. 

“Technology is only one aspect of autonomous driving and likely not the greatest barrier to adoption,” said Camil Tahan, partner with Strategy& Middle East. “Governments need to sort through issues such as changes to infrastructure and regulations. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and telecom companies will need to collaborate on communications standards. Insurers will need to rethink liability in a car accident. Consumers will also need to embrace the technology, primarily by believing that it is safe”, he added.

These are challenging issues, but they are not new. Indeed, the commercial airline industry already operates mostly through automated systems and technological standards set internationally, under well-defined regulatory frameworks that govern the international civil aviation ecosystem. Governments, manufacturers, and other stakeholders can use the experience of civil aviation to develop the policies, regulations, infrastructure, and business environment that will enable the safe, effective, and widespread introduction of AV technology. According to the Strategy& report, autonomous driving stakeholders can learn from civil aviation in three key areas. 

Infrastructure

Civil aviation uses a range of physical and technological infrastructure to maintain extremely high safety standards, such as multiple redundant-communication and collision-avoidance systems.

Regulations

International authorities set principles and regulations that airlines, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and air traffic control providers abide by. There are consistent, agreed standards for interoperability and safety, which encourage consumer demand.

A public–private ecosystem

Aircraft fly autonomously because of a plethora of back-up systems — including pilots, airline operating control centres, air traffic control facilities, and other public- and private-sector bodies. There is also a network of public and private stakeholders responsible for operations, monitoring, and maintenance including OEMs, traffic authorities, telecommunication providers, data providers and more.

The underlying rationale for automation is the same for both industries: safety is paramount, with efficiency, reliability, congestion management, and other factors secondary though important. Governments and OEMs will need to coalesce around clear standards in vehicle testing, insurance liability, and cybersecurity

According to the report, autonomous driving will require an entire value chain of providers, infrastructure, and traffic control. More importantly, autonomous cars will require standardised communication systems and regulations that allow for the seamless movement across borders and jurisdictions. This will mean coordinating traffic management across district, national, and international levels. Operators and regulators will also have their overlapping traffic management systems, akin to government air traffic control centres.

Alain Charles Publishing, University House, 11-13 Lower Grosvenor Place, London, SW1W 0EX, UK
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