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The University recently introduced self-driving vehicles onto its campus. File photo.
KAUST introduced self-driving shuttles on its campus to become the pioneer in adopting autonomous vehicles in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The pilot project incorporates vehicle technology from two global leaders in autonomous mobility and advanced manufacturing,Local Motors by LM Industries and EasyMile.
The launch of the new project establishes KAUST as a leader in the fields of future: eco-friendly transportation and mobility research, and makes KAUST a leading smart city in the region.
KAUST, Local Motors and EasyMile share the common goal of advancing pioneering science and technology.
"KAUST is a living laboratory for digital transformation and we pride ourselves on being an innovation hub in the region for developing and adopting advanced technology," said Dr. Tony Chan, KAUST president. "Implementing self-driving vehicle technology underscores our strong AI research base and the flexibility of our campus community, which make KAUST an ideal partner to adopt and demonstrate smart city user experiences for the Kingdom."
Implementing the project on the KAUST campus will enable students and researchers to work together with the companies on developing and introducing the new technology in a controlled environment and gather performance data, including vehicle performance, usage rates and user experience.
KAUST senior leadership and representatives from external companies gather to launch self-driving vehicles on the University's campus. File photo.
"Saudi Arabia has enormous potential for the autonomous shuttle market—not only for vehicle deployments but also for the growth and acceleration of AV capabilities," said Vikrant Aggarwal, president of Local Motors. "We are excited to deploy Olli at KAUST to showcase how our unique digital manufacturing process enhances rider experience through connectivity, customization and safety, while contributing to the research opportunities at KAUST."
KAUST's strategic partner Saudi Public Transport Co. (SAPTCO) will operate the autonomous shuttles at KAUST and manage the operations through SAPTCO's qualified Saudi staff.
"The operation of autonomous shuttles comes as a result of our strategic partnership with KAUST, during which we have provided high-quality integrated transportation services for University staff and its visitors. The project is in alignment with one of SAPTCO's strategic pillars, which is focusing on providing digital and mobility solutions," said Eng. Khalid AlHoqail, SAPTCO CEO. "We look forward to the future of our partnership with KAUST to develop advanced mobility solutions that contribute to the realization of the Saudi 2030 Vision."
The shuttles on the KAUST campus use mapping, cognitive response technology, light detection and ranging (Lidar) and obstacle avoidance systems to control, navigate and drive the vehicles. Both shuttles are fully electric and sustainable, making them not only easily accessible but also environmentally friendly.
Dr. Tony Chan, KAUST president, speaks during the recent self-driving vehicle event launch on campus. File photo.
"This self-driving shuttle service is a first in Saudi Arabia," said Gilbert Gagnaire, CEO of EasyMile. "We believe the Middle East's mobility needs can be met with autonomous vehicle technology. KAUST is smart as a destination and university. They are ahead of the curve in alternative mobility solutions. We see our collaboration as a groundbreaking milestone in introducing environmentally friendly and accessible public transportation to KAUST and the region."
Innovation and sustainability are two of KAUST's highest priorities. Implementing autonomous vehicles on campus is an important next step in creating transportation solutions that help reduce emissions, increase mobility and can help diversify Saudi Arabia's economy.
Both autonomous shuttles will be available for use by the KAUST community from January 2020. KAUST visitors will have the chance to experience the future of transportation innovation by taking a ride in KAUST's new shuttles while on campus.