Self-Flying Sky Taxis A Not So Distant Future

News has broken all over the internet and the world about Dubai’s hopes to have a passenger-carrying drone regularly buzzing through the skyline of the futuristic city-state as early as July.

The Emirate’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) recently announced at the World Government Summit in Dubai that in collaboration with the Chinese firm Ehang, they have successfully carried out the first test run of an autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) capable of carrying a human.

Known as the ‘Ehang 184’, the passenger drone is fitted with a touchscreen to the front of the passenger seat displaying a map of all destinations in the form of dots. According to Abu Dhabi Media’s The National, it has preset routes and the passenger selects the intended destination. The vehicle will then start automatic operation, take off and cruise to the set destination before descending and landing in a specific spot. A ground-based centre will monitor and control the entire operation.

“The AAV exhibited at the summit is not just a model; it is a real version that we have already experimented the vehicle in a flight in Dubai sky. The RTA is making every effort to start the operation of the AAV in July 2017,” RTA Director Mattar Al Tayer told The National.

“The trial run of the first AAV is in implementation of the directives of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to transform Dubai into the smartest city in the world,” said Mr Al Tayer.

“It is also part of the RTA’s endeavours to provide self-driving transport through engaging in the technological tests of self-driving vehicles in a Dubai environment.”

The Ehang 184 drone is reportedly designed to fly for maximum of 30 minutes at a maximum cruising speed of 160kph, with a standard speed likely to be set at 100kph.

The National said the ascending/descending speed is about six metres per second and the landing speed is four metres per second. The vehicle is almost four metres long, four metres wide and 1.6 metres high. It weighs about 250kg empty and about 360kg with an average passenger. The maximum cruising height is 3,000 feet and the battery charging time is one to two hours.

Despite obvious concerns regarding safety and reliability, Mr Al Tayer set a reassuring tone and said a standby system existed that would be capable of controlling and safely steering the AAV to the programmed landing point in the event of a system malfunction.

“The AAV is designed to operate under all climatic conditions unless there is a thunderstorm. The vehicle is fitted with highly accurate sensors with a very low-error threshold and can resist vibrations and extreme temperatures,” he told The National.

Dubai Civil Aviation Authority was reportedly a partner in the drone’s trials in order to assess safety criteria and to issue the permits for trial and vehicle inspection.

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