Dubai Tests Volocopter, a Flying Passenger Drone, for the First Time
Dubai’s autonomous flying taxi is now airborne. The city revealed on Monday it has successfully completed the first test flight of its flying taxi, which could form the basis of the world’s first self-driving taxi service. The project is part of a major mobility strategy that aims for a quarter of total journeys in Dubai to be fully autonomous by 2030.
“After the remarkable success of the first driverless metro in the region, we are glad to witness today the test flight of the Autonomous Air Taxi,” Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, crown prince of Dubai, 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 Sheikh took part in the maiden flight.
Dubai’s taxi service will use the two-seater Volocopter, an autonomous aircraft manufactured by a German company of the same name. The prototype version has a flight time of 30 minutes, a cruise speed of 31mph, maximum air speed of 62mph. The vehicle itself measures six feet six inches high, and the rotor rim is 22 feet in diameter.
When the service launches fully, customers will use a mobile app to book flights, track the routes and receive booking reference details. It could be some time though before autonomous taxis become a fully integrated aspect of Dubai transport — the authorities plan a five-year collaboration period with the UAE government to ensure the requirements are put in place to start taxi operations, during which further trial flights will take place.
The city first announced plans for air taxis back in February, when Mattar Al Tayer, chairman of the Roads and Transportation Authority, said at the World Government Summit 2017 that the autonomous air taxi would enter operations by July.
The plans have changed slightly since the announcement. The maiden flight comes two months after operations were set to start, and the choice of vehicle has changed too. In the original plans, the city would use the EHang 184, built by a tech firm in Guangzhou, China that can carry up to 220 pounds, fly for 25 minutes, and reach heights of two miles above sea level. The 530-pound aerial vehicle has a cruise speed of 37mph.
Although the RTA has opted for the Volocopter to power the city’s demands, the comparable specifications and abundance of safety features suggest it could prove a decent alternative.
“The Autonomous Air Taxi has a variety of unique features that include top security and safety standards, and multiple redundancies in all critical components such as propellers, motors, power source, electronics and flight controls,” Al Taylor said in a statement. “It is also fitted with optional emergency parachutes, nine independent battery systems, and a battery quick-charge and plug-in system, which takes two hours to reach full charge in the prototype version, a time that will be significantly reduced in the production version.”
Watch the taxi in action here, via this promotional video released by Volocopter in June:
**If you liked this article, check out this other video of Dubai’s flying drone taxis