DUBAI: In the latest sign of increased UAE-Israeli business co-operation, Al Habtoor Group, the Dubai-based hotels and motor conglomerate, has teamed up with a Jerusalem-based company on plans to put “robo-taxis” on the roads of the emirate.
Khalaf Al Habtoor, founding chairman of the group, signed a deal with Mobileye, the Israeli high-tech firm owned by Intel, that will provide the technology for the next generation of self-drive and autonomous vehicles in the UAE.
Mobileye technology will be fitted into cars from the Habtoor dealership, which has the Dubai franchise for Mitsubishi, one of the leading volume car marques in the region, as well as several luxury brands.
Amnon Shashua, the billionaire Israeli founder of Mobileye who sold the company to Intel for $15 billion in 2017, said that by early 2023 there would be a “fleet of autonomous, self-driving robo-taxi vehicles” on the streets of Dubai.
“Dubai is one of the most advanced cities in the world. It is classic territory to launch technologies for smart cities and a natural for deploying autonomous cars,” he added.
Mobileye’s tech provides data for map reading, navigation, traffic and driving conditions in a kit that can be fitted to Habtoor’s fleet, which serves government and public sector transport in Dubai, or can be bought by individual motorists as an add-on package
Al Habtoor said: “This deal will benefit both countries, the UAE and Israel, as well as neighboring countries and Europe.”
Shashua said that while Dubai was a center for growth in the Middle East, he would look to expand into other emirates and countries in the region.
Asked whether Mobileye would like to do business in Saudi Arabia, he said: “We look at things not through a political lens, but from the point of view of areas or territories where we can expand. The only reason we could not expand to Dubai before was the absence of a relationship between Israel and the UAE.
“It is true that Mobileye is owned by Intel, an American company, but still it is very difficult to start sending Israeli engineers in disguise. From a logistic perspective, it is not convenient. I believe there are many more opportunities in the Middle East and, once the ties are made formally, we could expand even further,” he added.
The first phase of the partnership will see 1,000 petrol-engine cars from the Habtoor fleet fitted with Mobileye technology, leading up to trials with a human “safety driver” in early 2022, before a fleet of “smart cars” is launched later that year or early 2023.
The business relationship between Habtoor and Mobileye began before the recent normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel. The Dubai-based company has been among the most enthusiastic advocates of closer business links with Israel, recently signaling it will open a representative office in the Israeli capital.