The Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA) has begun testing on a proof-of-concept autonomous air taxi, flying for five minutes approximately 650 feet above a windy residential neighborhood.
The air taxis (AATs) are built by the German company Volocopter. Looking like a helicopter with a drone’s rotors attached at the top, it is meant to seat 2 with 18 propellors. Unmanned for its first run, the test and surrounding ceremony was arranged by Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed.
“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 said in a statement. “This is another testament to our commitment to driving positive change. We are constantly exploring opportunities to serve the community and advance the prosperity and happiness of society.”
The test offered only a partial look at what both Volocopter and Dubai hope the AAT can do. The ultimate goal is a 30-minute trip with actual people inside, their confidence buoyed by numerous safety measures including back-up batteries, rotors and, just in case, a pair of parachutes.
The taxis plan on entering services under Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA), one of the most aggressive local transit authorities in the world when it comes technological innovation. It hopes to transition at least one-fourth of its passenger travel to autonomous transportation by as early as 2030. Dubai has embraced technological salves of many stripes, also turning to self-driving cars for mobile police surveillance.
Mattar Al Tayer, Director-General of the RTA, said in a statement that the AAT “has a variety of unique features that include top security and safety standards, and multiple redundancies in all critical components…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.”
Ideally, Volocopter says it would launch the taxi service within five years. “It already is capable of flying based on GPS tracks today,” says CEO Florian Reuter of the AAT, “and we will implement full sense capability, also dealing with unknown obstacles on the way.”