February 15 2017
Dubai plans drone taxi that skips the driver, and the roads
Like a scene from The Jetsons, commuters in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, may soon climb aboard automated flying taxis, soaring over busy streets and past the desert city’s gleaming skyscrapers, all – quite literally – at the push of a button.
Passenger drones, capable of carrying a single rider and a small suitcase, will begin buzzing above the emirate as early as July, according to the director of the city’s transportation authority, part of an ambitious plan to increase driverless technology.
The craft can carry a passenger weighing up to 100 kilograms and a small suitcase. Photo: Bloomberg
Already, the eight-rotor drone, made by the Chinese firm Ehang, has flown test runs past the Burj Al Arab, Dubai’s iconic, sail-shaped skyscraper.
The drone “is not just a model but it has really flown in Dubai skies”, Mattar Al Tayer, the director general of Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority, said on Monday, adding that the emirate would “spare no effort to launch” autonomous aerial vehicles by July.
The EHang was first unveiled at CES 2016. Photo: AP
The Ehang 184 can fly up to 50 kilometres, or about 30 minutes, on a single battery charge. It has a top speed of 160 km/h, but authorities said it will typically operate at 100 km/h.
The craft can carry a 220-pound passenger, according to a promotional video produced by the Roads and Transport Authority, which depicts a man boarding the vessel, buckling into a race car-style harness and tapping his destination on a touch screen before taking off.
The video describes the drone as “autopiloted, directed and monitored via a command centre”.
According to the manufacturer, the drone is equipped with fail-safe technology and in the event of a malfunction “will immediately land in the nearest possible area to ensure safety”.
The drone is the latest in a series of measures to impose cutting-edge technology to help with the city’s congested roadways.
The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, announced last year that 25 per cent of all journeys in the city would be conducted by driverless vehicles by 2030. The city operates the world’s longest driverless subway system and began a trial program last year using automated cars produced by France’s Easymile.
In October, the city signed a deal with the Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One to study the potential for a hyperloop – a vacuum-like tube through which vehicle pods hurtle at speeds faster than airliners – between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates’ capital.
New York Times