It’s happening, Dubai, the city in the desert, is as promised testing flying autonomous taxis. Something which its ruler – Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum sees as a small part of a much bigger 25-year plan. A vision which includes both land and autonomous air vehicles developed by manufacturers from all over the world.
A recent trial of the German-made Volocopter, had the two-seater vehicle fly at an altitude of 200-meters for 5-minutes. While not meant to be a complete test of its abilities or reliability more are to come. However, testing so far has centered around its safety systems which include, backup batteries, rotors, and parachutes.
This latest autonomous taxis test was conducted near the leafy Jumeirah Beach Park Resort and saw Volocopters maximum-18 rotors tested. It’s thought testers reached its max-speed of 100km/h during the test, although the max flight time of 30-minutes was not.
The company behind the Volocopter expects to launch the autonomous taxis service within five years. However, it is according to CEO, Florian Reuter; already capable of using GPS tracks to navigate. Additionally, Volocopter will soon be able to deal with unknown obstacles, something which the DCCA will have to test.
As for the vehicle itself, it stands at roughly 2-meters high and features 18 individual rotors. The individual rotors each have their own batteries which are spread out across a rotor-rim with a diameter of 7-meters.
Back at the start of 2017, news broke about the Chinese firm, Ehang, and its one seater flying taxi. At that time it was thought that it would meet Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum‘s vision; although testing proved otherwise.
With an anticipated flying ceiling of above 100ft, unfortunately, the Ehang crashed in every test conducted above it. And that has meant more testing of the vehicle by the Chinese company is needed, although not with the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA).
However, while the Volocopter is in the prestige position of having a testing agreement, it has serious competition. Right now, there are around a dozen European and U.S. based companies working on autonomous vertical takeoff and landing vehicles.
On that list of potential Dubai, competitors are Google-backed Kitty Hawk, Uber, and even aerospace giant Airbus. All of which are well-funded and present a threat to the German flying taxi, meaning the race is on!
In on the Action
While there is a lot of competition in the aerial space, companies such as Tesla are striking deals with Dubai’s authorities too. Although, not to supply autonomous flying taxis; instead Elon Musk’s company has delivered the first 50 of a 200-vehicle deal. This fleet of semi-self-driving cars includes the Model S, and Model X, the goal is to be the first fleet of autonomous road taxis. However, right now, Tesla’s Autopilot software is incapable of completing a full journey unaided.
A Vision of the Future
As a country, the UAE, not just the ruler of Dubai, has a vision for the future. This vision see’s it distinguishing itself in a part of the world which is constantly struggling with what the West takes for granted. As such, the goal of a high-tech, forward-looking society is something which looks attractive to its people and rulers.
Where Dubai is concerned, this autonomous taxis trial is part of its driverless mobility dreams. A dream for which to a certain extent it has already realized. As it is the first city in the world to boast a driver-less metro, with buses and cars expected to follow suit soon!
This is all-encompassed in Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum‘s 25-year plan. He hopes to make driver-less vehicles ubiquitous by 2030 at the latest.
In a recent statement to the Worlds press he said the following about the Volocopter test:
“After the remarkable success of the driver-less metro in Dubai, we are happy to witness the test-flight of the Autonomous Air Taxi.
This is a testament to our commitment to driving positive change. We are continually exploring opportunities to serve the community and advance the prosperity and happiness of society.
Encouraging innovation and adopting technologies contributes not only to the country’s development but also builds bridges into the future.”
The UAE also plans to attempt to send the Arab world’s very first mission into space. This plan sees it get a probe to Mars no later than 2021, will that be possible? As is always the case, with the right finance in place and the right partners, anything is possible!