Will Dubai Offer First Passenger Drone for Public Transportation?

Rapid innovation in drone technologies could relieve commuter traffic in smart cities as passenger drone services become available.

For anyone needing a taxi this summer in Dubai, things are looking up. If all goes as planned, the jet-setting city will offer the world’s first autonomous air taxi service.

Combining autonomous driving (AD) and drone technology, the Ehang 184 passenger drone is an autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) capable of carrying a person weighing less than 220 pounds. With plans to deploy in summer 2017, the AAV is part of Dubai’s smart mobility solutions for reducing traffic congestion.

After passengers step inside, they select a destination listed on a touchscreen device nestled near the seat. The vehicle automatically starts, lifts off and cruises to the set destination then lands smoothly. A ground-based center monitors and controls the entire operation.

Featuring eight propellers, the mega drone reportedly flies for up to 25 minutes at top speeds of 37 mph and reaches a cruising height of 11,500 feet.

According to the Chinese-based manufacturer Ehang, the passenger drone has made more than 200-plus successful (non-crashing) test flights.

This ambitious autonomous public transportation service is just one of many projects that are one step closer to the dream of a flying car.

But it’s not the only passenger drone poised to revolutionize urban airways. Airbus is planning its own autonomous Vahana flyer. German-based e-volo has been testing its Volocopter and says it’s close to receiving certification to fly in 2018. There are other multi-rotor passenger drone designs from Zee Aero and Joby Aviation.

Just how trains and automobiles changed transportation, passenger drones could shape the future of transportation and play a critical role in the evolution of smart cities. By no means has innovation in automobiles and railways come to a halt. Elon Musk’s SpaceX Hyperloop competition has captured the imagination for anyone who love trains. Earlier this year, three university teams (Delft University, MIT and Technical University of Munich) tested their prototype pods on a mile-long, vacuum-sealed SpaceX Hyperloop track.

The SpaceX Hyperloop may or may not evolve into a real transportation technology, but nonetheless it’s inspiring ideas that may completely change what exists today.

This creative spirit may well lead to a future filled with space elevators and teleportation, but for now, jet packs, hoverbikes and flying taxis are well within reach.

While the Hyperloop promises more speed (up to 760 mph), the Dubai passenger drone aims to lift the problems of traffic into the air, which will require a new set of air traffic regulations. If these experiments point to anything, it’s that human ingenuity is earnest about creating better, more efficient ways to travel.

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