WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Dubai wants to be the most futuristic city on Earth so it’s no surprise it’s going to be the first with a flying taxi service.
On Monday the emirate’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), who’ve already announced that they’re going to be the first city to build a Hyperloop network, a train network that can whisk commuters around the emirate at Mach 1.0, and be the first city to replace real cops with robo-cops, have announced another first. They’re going to be the first city in the world to roll out passenger carrying, autonomous sky taxis – and it’ll happen this summer, which will end up being nearly three years earlier than Uber’s own flying taxi service.
The RTA have been collaborating with Chinese drone firm EHang, rather than Airbus who also have a play in this space, who recently showed off their sky taxi flying around the night sky, to complete the first test runs of the EHang 184, a single passenger Autonomous Aerial Vehicle (AAV). The flying taxi was exhibited at the World Government Summit in Dubai this week.
“The AAV exhibited at the summit is not just a model, it’s a real version that we have already extensively tested in flights around the Dubai sky. The RTA is making every effort to start the operation of the AAV in July 2017,” said Mattar Al Tayer, the Director General and Chairman of the RTA.
The Ehang 184 is fitted with a touchscreen that displays a map of all the preset destinations in the form of dots, and when the passenger selects their intended destination the AAV automatically takes off, reaches cruising altitude and flies to the set destination before descending and landing in a specific spot, all the while being monitored from a ground based command and control centre.
“The trial run of the first AAV is all part of our plan to transform Dubai into the smartest city in the world,” said Tayer, “and it’s also part of the RTA’s self driving transport strategy which aims to transform 25 per cent of all of the individual trips in Dubai into self driving trips using a variety of different modes of transport by 2030.”
“The new service will enhance the integration between public transport modes and people’s happiness by providing passengers with smooth, quick and innovative travel alternatives,” he said, “and we have worked with EHang to ensure the highest levels of security, safety and redundancy, the EHang 184 is fitted with eight main propellers, so in case of any failure in the first propeller, there would be seven other propellers ready to complete the flight and a smooth landing. And in case of a malfunction in any other part of the system the standby system would be capable of controlling and safely steering the AAV to the programmed landing point.”
The EHang 184 weighs in at 250kg unladen, is 3.9m long by 4m wide and 1.6m high and will fly for maximum of 30 minutes at a cruising speed of 160km/h and a cruising altitude of 3,000ft. Meanwhile, the ascending-descending speed is about 6 metres per second with the landing speed being just 4m/s and the battery re-charge time is just under two hours – it’s a neat package.
“The AAV can operate in all weathers but we’ll ground it during thunderstorms. The vehicle is fitted with highly accurate sensors with a very low error threshold and can resist vibrations and extreme temperatures,” said Tayer, which is just as well given the fact that temperatures in Dubai can easily hit 50°C.
“Dubai Civil Aviation Authority was a partner in all our trials and helped define the safety criteria, issue trial permits and inspect the vehicle, and the RTA appreciates their contribution,” said Tayer, “and Etisalat, our 4G, M2M and LTE prime network provider, who are providing the vehicle to control center communications network for the new AAV network, also contributed to the success of the test.”
Now the test is behind them the next phase of the project is rolling it all out, but for residents of the UAE who want to take to the skies to beat the traffic their wishes are about to come true.