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ION introduces region’s first fully autonomous public transport shuttle


UAE-based sustainable transport company, ION, has begun operating a fully autonomous shuttle serving public commuters along the Ajman Corniche, the first development of its kind in the UAE and the wider region.

Before the launch of this route, autonomous vehicles have generally been restricted to non-public roads and pathways within enclosed communities and campuses. In a first for the region, the autonomous shuttle is running on a public road, between the Fairmont Hotel and the Coral Beach Hotel on the Ajman Corniche.

To ensure the safety of commuters, the shuttle is equipped with a range of deep-learning technologies, including V2X (vehicle to everything), 3D vision and environment recognition, automatic route navigation, IoT sensors, and motion-sensor doors.

Its smart surveillance system detects and monitors the vehicle’s surroundings as it receives data from traffic lights and traffic signals, while sending notifications when the shuttle is approaching pedestrian crossing lines. The shuttle is also emissions-free, wheelchair-accessible, and has a capacity of 15 passengers.

The autonomous shuttle project is a partnership between ION, Ajman-based accelerator, Ajman X, and UAE-based multinational telecommunications services provider, Etisalat. ION is a joint venture between Bee’ah, the Middle East’s sustainability pioneer, and Sharjah-based Crescent Enterprises.

ION is also the region’s exclusive provider for autonomous shuttles from France-based Navya, a leader in the design and manufacture of self-driving solutions. Navya shuttles are currently operational in 22 countries, including in the UAE, through the partnership with ION.

For the Ajman Corniche project, ION leveraged its expertise in the end-to-end commissioning of Navya shuttles. Previously, the green mobility company introduced autonomous shuttles to Masdar City, where it has been serving commuters since 2018.

In late 2020, ION also completed a successful pilot phase in the University City of Sharjah, and its autonomous shuttles now serve students and other commuters around campus. With the launch of the autonomous shuttle along the Ajman Corniche, ION has achieved a new milestone towards cleaner, greener, and smarter public transport systems in the UAE.

Nasir Al Shamsi, Director of Sustainable Mobility at Bee’ah, remarked, “We hope this development towards sustainable transport in Ajman is the first of many in the UAE. The shuttle demonstrates that autonomous technology is not only sustainable but also scalable to meet future demands. The shuttles are equipped with smart functions such as communicating with signals and pickup points to begin moving and come to a halt automatically.

“Since these shuttles are also integrated with advanced route management tools, we can seamlessly program more points of interest and expand routes in the future. Electric, autonomous shuttles will play a significant role in reducing vehicular emissions and working towards the UAE’s Net-Zero by 2050 strategic initiative. At the same time, it is a safe, quiet and comfortable transport option for commuters.”

Recently, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, tweeted that the UAE would begin testing autonomous vehicles on public roads. This makes UAE the first country in the Middle East, and the second country in the world, to do so.

Khaled Al Huraimel, Group CEO of Bee’ah, said, “I applaud the nation’s leadership on this initiative, which demonstrates a commitment to ensuring safe, reliable and sustainable self-driving solutions for the UAE. This will also support Dubai’s 2030 target to make 25% of all road journeys driverless and contribute to the UAE Net-Zero by 2050 strategic initiative. Through ION, Bee’ah looks forward to accelerating the journey towards driverless transport and a clean-energy future in the UAE.”

The Ajman Corniche shuttle serves commuters on weekdays between 9 am to 12 pm and 4 pm to 7 pm. On November 15, His Excellency Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, UAE Cabinet Minister for AI, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications, visited the Ajman Corniche to ride the region’s first autonomous shuttle. Top executives from Ajman X and ION welcomed the minister and briefed him on the technical, operational, and environmental benefits of the project.

ION will continue enabling route management and operation of the autonomous shuttle. The company is exploring more opportunities to implement greener, future-proof public transport solutions in Ajman and across the UAE.

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