It would be another world’s first for the city of Dubai – autonomous taxi drones are set to take flight this summer. Emirate’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) revealed plans for the Chinese-made EHang 184 drone to carry passengers to their destination without the need for a pilot.
While it may seem many years away, RTA has already conducted a test run and has designated July 2017 as the date when the taxis will start operating. The four-legged egg-shaped drone looks much like a helicopter and could potentially be a solution to car-clogged cities like Dubai. Ordering a taxi drone is similar to the style of Uber, the taxi drone can be requested via a smartphone app. Once inside the craft, the user inputs a destination on a touch screen in front of his/her seat. However, the craft is likely made for shorter destinations as it can only travel distances of about 25-31 miles, fly for 30 minutes at a time and has a payload capacity of 220 pounds. It can reach a top speed of 100 mph but would usually be operated at 62 mph and would also be monitored from a control room on the ground. Despite advances in autonomous technology, there are always concerns about drone technology malfunctioning. Ehang co-founder George Yan explained “Everything is calculated in the backend to pick the most optimal route for you, so there is no collision with the other drones flying. On the drone itself we have built pretty sophisticated back up services so if another system fails then another will take over.”
Dubai is known for being a futuristic city, oftentimes leading the way for seemingly impossible future technologies such as the Hyperloop. The head of Dubai’s Roads & Transportation Agency, Mattar al-Tayer explained that they are very serious about these taxi drones, “This is not only a model, we have actually experimented with this vehicle flying in Dubai’s skies.” We will have to wait and see whether these self-flying crafts will really take off come July 2017.