Saudi university launches Kingdom’s first self-driving buses

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The autonomous shuttles depend on electric energy via batteries and they do not require petrol to run. (Photo Supplied)
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The autonomous shuttles depend on electric energy via batteries and they do not require petrol to run. (Photo Supplied)
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The autonomous shuttles depend on electric energy via batteries and they do not require petrol to run. (Photo Supplied)
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The autonomous shuttles depend on electric energy via batteries and they do not require petrol to run. (Photo Supplied)
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The autonomous shuttles depend on electric energy via batteries and they do not require petrol to run. (Photo Supplied)
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The autonomous shuttles depend on electric energy via batteries and they do not require petrol to run. (Photo Supplied)
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The autonomous shuttles depend on electric energy via batteries and they do not require petrol to run. (Photo Supplied)
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The autonomous shuttles depend on electric energy via batteries and they do not require petrol to run. (Photo Supplied)
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Updated 12 December 2019

Saudi university launches Kingdom’s first self-driving buses

  • Two driverless shuttles will undergo trials
  • The shuttles are nicknamed Olli and EZ10

THUWAL: A Saudi university is helping lead the global drive toward autonomous vehicles with the launch on Wednesday of the Kingdom’s first self-driving buses.

Two driverless shuttles, nicknamed Olli and EZ10, will undergo trials on the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) campus with a view to starting regular commuter services for students and staff early next year.

The transport initiative is the result of a collaboration project between KAUST, digital vehicle manufacturer LM (Local Motors) Industries, driverless technologies firm EasyMile, and the Saudi Public Transport Co. (SAPTCO).

The shuttles were launched during a special ceremony at the Thuwal university site.

KAUST’s head of digital experience and innovation, Mohamed Abdel-Aal, told Arab News: “They’re electric, running on battery, not petrol. They are connected to the internet and communicate with a central command center, and are autonomous, self-driving.”

Olli and EZ10 use camera and censor technology to sense and feel their surroundings.

FASTFACTS

• Two driverless shuttles, Olli and EZ10, will undergo trials on KAUST campus.

• Olli and EZ10 use camera and censor technology to sense and feel their surroundings.

• Olli, is 3D printed — the body, and a lot of its components.

“One of the buses, Local Motors’ shuttle Olli, is actually 3D printed — the body, and a lot of its components. These shuttles can be produced very quickly because they do not require complex manufacturing,” said Abdel-Aal.

He added that KAUST was currently involved in discussions on how the Kingdom could benefit from advances in driverless vehicles.

Saudi bus firm SAPTCO is supporting the project as a certified operator of the autonomous shuttles, should it be required.

“For KAUST, as a university, this launch allows us to test, co-develop and co-design concepts in these shuttles, acting as a living lab. KAUST can test and examine these shuttles in a controlled environment, and whatever we learn can also scale outside to bigger cities and the region,” Abdel-Aal added.

During the launch event, Sulaiman Al-Thunayan, vice president for government affairs at KAUST, thanked governmental sectors, such as Saudi Customs and King Abdul Aziz International Airport, for helping to give the official green light for the operation of the smart shuttles at relatively short notice.

“KAUST has always ensured it leaves an imprint on the realization of Vision 2030, and this is one initiative that showcases that,” he added.

KAUST Chief Information Officer Jason Roos said the idea to find smart solutions came about six months ago, and had given birth to other initiatives and platforms whether from “drones, autonomous vehicles, to digital immersive experiences when it comes to security.”

Projects such as KAUST Smart helped to break down barriers between organizations and departments and ensured that “things happen at KAUST that cannot be done anywhere else in the world,” added Roos.

“This isn’t about a bus, this is about a new industry, autonomous vehicles and the incredible things of a technology that KAUST is going to be part of developing,” said Kevin Cullen, the university’s vice president of innovation and economic development.

The center is responsible for putting the research conducted at KAUST to use for the community, he added.

KAUST President Tony Chan said the launch had taken place at an opportune moment, as the university was celebrating its 10-year anniversary in September.

The shuttle buses will be taken on test drives and if all goes well are set to start running services for KAUST students and employees in January.

Related


Single Saudi women look to Riyadh for opportunity

Updated 21 January 2020

Single Saudi women look to Riyadh for opportunity

  • The Saudi capital is attracting a large number of single women seeking employment opportunities

RIYADH: One of the foremost development plans in Saudi Arabia is to increase women’s participation in the labor market.

With new reforms being undertaken in Riyadh, the capital is attracting a large number of single women seeking employment opportunities.

“The idea of women moving to cities in search of work isn’t new, but it rarely happened on the scale we’re seeing today,” Shahad Al-Hamdan, a communication officer in Riyadh, told Arab News.

“Women are now more educated than they were before, with many holding master’s degrees or Ph.Ds.”

Al-Hamdan, who used to live in Jeddah, spoke of the struggles facing people working in media in her former city. Many receive low salaries with little to no career progression, making for an uncertain future. Increased opportunities and a higher salary at a better company led her to move to Riyadh.

Al-Hamdan also spoke of how women in Saudi Arabia are used to the idea of someone else helping them and taking care of them. 

“One of the factors that made me decide to move to a new city is that I’m very attached to my parents and would like to be more independent,” she said. 

Shahad Al-Harbi, a 28-year-old marketing officer who used to live in Tabuk, moved to Riyadh in 2019.

Her parents were initially opposed to the idea of her living alone in another city, until they saw her struggle for a year trying to find a job that would suit her major and her experience.

“I had to work remotely for an online startup in Dubai with a below-average salary of $800 per month,” she told Arab News.

Al-Harbi, who has a master’s degree in marketing and business administration, said she felt as though the company was taking advantage of her because of her desperation in Tabuk. She was a student in the US, and so did not find it difficult to live in a big city. 

“The nature of housing in Saudi Arabia isn’t as well-suited to single women as it is in the US. Apartment buildings lack proper security and amenities. It’s a bit stressful in this regard, but nothing impossible to overcome,” she said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Increased opportunities and higher salaries at better companies led many women to move to Riyadh.

• New reforms are being undertaken in Riyadh.

Raghad Al-Juhani, editor of a political program at news channel Al-Ekhbariya, also moved from Tabuk to Riyadh after graduating from high school in 2015.

Among her reasons for moving was that she wanted to study a major of her choice at a specific university, in an environment that would allow her to make her own decisions.

“Living independently refines your character and reminds you that your future is in your own hands,” Al-Juhani told Arab News. “I’d advise anyone who hasn’t found a helpful environment to create another one.”

Al-Harbi agreed that living independently is character-building. “Living alone, you get to know yourself better and you focus on your own goals,” she said.

“It’s important, however, to effectively manage a social life and resist any tendency to self-isolate by adapting to the change in environment.”

She said her father visits her every month during weekends, and her parents are very proud of her accomplishments.

Al-Harbi added that living alone came with several other benefits, including the freedom to build a healthy lifestyle.

Al-Juhani likewise mentioned how her time alone helped her lose weight. “I wanted to focus on my health, so I started out with small steps until I was finally able to lose a lot of weight and build muscle, a goal that I wouldn’t have achieved without my independence,” she said.

Accepting a job in a different city was a joyous moment for these women, but breaking the news to their families was no easy task.

“One moment my parents supported me, the next they changed their minds. This created a lot of anxiety for me, and I worried whether I’d fail this challenge,” said Al-Juhani.

“Once I proved to them that I was able to overcome these difficulties, they supported me financially and morally.”

Asma Al-Balawi, an event manager at Golden Scent, moved from Tabuk to Riyadh seven months ago.

She said she initially had no intention to move, but during her visit to Riyadh, she applied for a couple of jobs and received a quick response from one of the companies, which hired her only two weeks later. 

“My family didn’t have time to react. It all happened so fast, but still they were supportive of my decision,” she said.

Al-Balawi, who lives with her daughter and another female roommate, said independent life as a single mother has its difficulties.

“Now everything is my responsibility: Paying bills, rent, grocery shopping. This made me realize that my salary isn’t mine as it once was when I used to live with my parents. Riyadh is an expensive city compared to others in Saudi Arabia,” she said.