DUBAI: The Emirati metropolis announced it is to test passenger-carrying drones in its skies by July.
Autonomous Aerial Vehicle taxis won’t exactly replace the traditional earthbound sort, since they will be able to carry only one passenger, who together with Payload is not more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds), range of just 50 kilometres (31 miles) and Flight Time is 1/2 Hour.
But if it works, the long-term implications are huge not only for Dubai, which has among the world’s deadliest roads, but also for congested cities around the world. While others sit bumper-to-bumper, a passenger in these new drones will be able to cruise above the gridlock at an average speed of 100 kilometres an hour (62 miles an hour).
That might seem like a desert mirage, but the concept has already sprung up elsewhere, if only as an aspiration. In June, the American state of Nevada cleared the world’s first passenger-carrying drone for testing. The craft is the same one being introduced in Dubai, the Chinese-made Ehang 184, a compact pod with four dual-propeller extensions that navigates by using sensors. At that time, many were quick to pronouncethat the widespread adoption of such vehicles was still a long way off. Success in Dubai could accelerate things dramatically.
Ditching the pilot goes a step beyond the blue-sky thinking taking place at another transport innovator, Uber. In October, the ride-hailing firm released a 97-page white paper outlining plans for flying cars that could turn a two-hour drive into a 15-minute flight. Those vehicles would be manned by pilots, but Uber projects that they would eventually be far cheaper for a 60-mile trip than the company’s standard UberX cars are now.
Pilotless drones might cut costs further by eliminating the need to pay for labour (it would also save on weight), although people on the ground would monitor the vehicles. It is not hard to envisige a future in which business travellers use piloted flying cars like Uber’s for intercity journeys, and trips between cities are taken in drones. Add to the mix some other innovations—like the aforementioned hyperloop, that could whizz people between Dubai and Abu Dhabi in 12 minutes, and the driverless on-the-ground taxis that will inevitably become a reality and a multimodal transportation future akin to Futurama doesn’t seem so far-fetched. Eventually.
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THREE MORE FUTURISTIC TRANSPORT IDEAS
Feel like this all sounds kind of familiar? Dubai is definitely a fan of its futuristic transport schemes. These three are also said to be in the works…
1. THE HYPERLOOP
Last year, Hyperloop One and the RTA signed a deal to explore building the world’s first operational Hyperloop system by 2021. The high-speed transport system would use tube-like capsules inside a reduced-pressure tunnel to ferry passengers and cargo in record time – and could take you from Dubai International Airport to Abu Dhabi in just 12 minutes.
2. DRIVERLESS TAXIS
NEXT Future Transportation has paired up with app-based booking service Careem in an attempt to bring driverless taxis to Dubai’s roads in the near future. The battery-powered pods would accommodate up to 10 people individually, or could be joined together to create a bus-like structure.
Yas Island should soon be getting a personal rapid transit system where passengers can zoom around in driverless pods that are attached to an elevated track. The project – the first of its kind in the Middle East – is expected to connect to main attractions on Yas Island, and will eventually be linked to the Abu Dhabi International Airport.