First driverless cars, then pilotless taxis.
Dubai tested its pilotless flying taxi in a global transport first last month.
The two-seater drones, called Autonomous Air Taxi (AAT), were created by German manufacturer Volocopter and are set to join the skyscrapers of the world’s highest city in around five years.
The taxis resemble a small helicopter with 18 rotors. They take off and land vertically onto pads or ‘voloports’ and will be linked to an app operating the same way as Uber, but without any input from a person.
The taxis are battery powered, environmentally friendly and comes equipped with parachutes, backup batteries and spare rotors.
Dubai’s roads are extremely overcrowded, and are renowned for the gridlock on its highways. Passengers taking to the skies instead of the roads will ease this congestion, as well as reducing pollution and the need for car-accommodating architecture.
Alexander Zosel, Volocopter’s co-founder, said: “If you build roads, you build bridges, it’s a huge amount and it’s always much more cheaper to have a system where you don’t need that infrastructure.”
The project had been kept until now fairly under-wraps, building anticipation. Its maiden voyage was part of a ceremony for the Dubai Crown Prince, Sheikh Hamda bin Mohammed, where it took off 200 meters in the air for around five minutes. “We show facts, not visions.”, said Zosel.
The United Arab Emirates aims to lead in technological innovations such as these. Last year it was the first to implement a driverless metro system. The government of Dubai said it aims for autonomous transport to make up a quarter of all trips by 2030.
Sheikh Hamdan said in a statement: “Encouraging innovation and adopting the latest technologies contribute not only to the country’s development but also build bridges into the future”
The taxis currently have a maximum flight time of 30 minutes, a maximum airspeed of 62mph and take two hours to charge. There are assurances that the final version will be much more efficient in all these areas.
Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA) have invested an unknown sum into flying taxis and plans to work with the country’s aviation authorities to develop legislation for the AAT. Once these are in place, Volocopter say the drones will be ready for mass production. No solid date has been indicated for when it will become available to passengers.
Zosel said: “We’ve proven that it works. At the end of this five years, Dubai will be ready.”