Dubai is serious about flying taxies
Ultra-cosmopolitan Dubai, of the United Arab Emirates, intends to have a fleet of autonomous flying people-carriers fully operational within the next to two to five years.
The Autonomous Air Taxi (AAT), created by German company Volocopter, is on show at GITEX, currently taking place in Dubai. GITEX is an annual consumer computer and electronics trade show, exhibition and conference that takes place at the Dubai World Trade Centre.
The AAT project forms part of Dubai's 2030 Autonomous Transport Strategy, which aims to transform 25% of Dubai's total mobility to self-driving transport by 2030.
The first AAT test flight took place last month. The local Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) plans to have the project off the ground before 2022.
The current model can carry two passengers and resembles a small helicopter, although instead of having one large rotator, it features a wide hoop with 18 low-maintenance electric propellers attached to it.
The RTA says Volocopter is working on a model which will carry up to four passengers.
It operates through an autopilot option by programing specific routes in a GPS-based navigation system, and there will be a remote-controlled flight option using a ground-based pilot if the drone suddenly needs to be rerouted. There is also a full aircraft emergency parachute as an extra precaution in case anything goes wrong.
A local RTA official said these air vehicles will travel from point to point, like a metro, taking off and landing at specific points. Passengers will not be able to determine their own route.
The people-carrying drone will be powered completely by electricity and run on nine independent batteries that are easy to charge and reach full capacity within two hours.
Currently, the maximum flight duration is around 30 minutes, the maximum speed is 100km per hour, and the maximum flight altitude is 2 000-metres.
The RTA says before the metro-drones can open for business, legislative and operational guidelines need to be drawn up. It says it is working with strategic partners, to meet operational requirements as soon as possible, in the following areas: law and policies, air routes and trails, take-off and landing points, standards for service operators, and safety and security standards.
When the service is up and running, commuters in Dubai will be able to order an aircraft via an app and receive a booking code which they will enter into an interactive screen in the AAT before it will take off.
Otherwise, the app will be similar to how e-hailing service Uber works. Passengers will be able to monitor where the drone is on a map and know what time to expect it to descend onto the landing mat.
The app has already been developed and was unveiled this week at GITEX. Called S'hail, the app brings together all RTA transportation services ? Dubai Metro, Dubai Tram, RTA taxis and buses ? on one platform. Users can book and pay for any transportation within the app and the AAT service will eventually also be integrated into it.
Other companies working on urban air transportation plans include Airbus, Kitty Hawk and Uber.