Dubai is moving full steam ahead toward a futuristic skyline dotted with modern skyscrapers and flying taxis by kicking off trials of the Volocopter two-seater aircraft. The all-electric 18-rotor vehicle took to the skies for the first time over the city on Monday as the city looks to establish what would be world’s first self-flying taxi service.
The Volocopter first emerged in 2013 as an audacious electric aircraft, and has gathered quite a bit of momentum in the subsequent years through a series of successful test flights and, more recently, a US$29 million investment from Daimler. Designed to autonomously carry two passengers from point A to point B without a pilot, the Volocopter in its current form can fly for 30 minutes at a time with a top speed of 100 km/h (62 mph).
Dubai announced its plans to trial the Volocopter back in June, and has rebranded it as the Autonomous Air Taxi (AAT) for its purposes. It is hoped the aircraft will play a role in having autonomous vehicles handle a quarter of all passenger journeys in the city by 2030.
“The Autonomous Air Taxi has a variety of unique features that include top security and safety standards, and multiple redundancies in all critical components such as propellers, motors, power source, electronics and flight controls,” says HE Mattar Al Tayer, Director-General and Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority. “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.”
Nobody was in the vehicle as it made its maiden flight over Dubai, near Jumeirah Beach Park. The Crown Prince of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Hamdan, was on hand to press the launch button and kick off the autonomous test flight, and watch on as it beamed back live shots from the sky. He also received a briefing on how the air taxi will be integrated with other public transport systems and how the public will be able to book flights and track its flight paths through a smartphone app. The trials of Dubai’s Autonomous Air Taxi will take place over five years.
Dr. Hans C. Mumm