Dubai passenger drone sparks dreams of futuristic transport

Dean Evans Technology Writer Twitter

Did you hear the news that Dubai is going to start using an Ehang 184 passenger drone as an autonomous ‘air taxi’?

“The AAV exhibited at the [World Government Summit in Dubai] is not just a model,” said Mattar Al Tayer, the director general and chairman of the UAE’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA). “It is a real version that we have already experimented the vehicle in a flight in Dubai sky. The RTA is making every effort to start the operation of the AAV in July 2017.”

Featuring eight propellers, the Ehang drone can reportedly fly for up to 30 minutes at speeds of up to 160kph (100mph) and reach a cruising height of 3,000 feet. You can watch a test flight of the drone below.

Whether the ambitious service works or not, it brings us one step closer to the dream of a flying car. It’s not the only initiative either. Airbus is planning its own autonomous flyer (Vahana), the Volocopter looks promising, and there are multi-rotor passenger drone designs from Zee.Aero and Joby Aviation.

Read: Forget driverless cars, these flying cars are almost ready for take off

These projects could be ushering in an age of futuristic transport. After all, the first automobile was built by Karl Benz way back 1885, making cars 132 years old this year. The first railway (albeit an iron plate-covered wooden tramway) dates back to 1805, although the Diolkos paved trackway in Ancient Greece allowed boats to be dragged across the Isthmus of Corinth as early as 600 BC.

The railway is ripe for reinvention, part of the reason why Elon Musk’s SpaceX Hyperloop competition has captured the imagination. Earlier this year, three university teams (TU Delft, MIT and Munich Technical University) tested out their prototype pods on a mile-long, vacuum-sealed SpaceX Hyperloop track.

Whether a Hyperloop ever gets built isn’t really the point of Musk’s idea. Hyperloop is designed to “encourage innovation in transportation technology, to get people excited about new forms of transport, things that may be completely different from what we see today.”

We’re still a long way from space elevators and teleportation, but jet packs, hoverbikes and flying cars are now well within our reach. The trouble is, any new mode of transport needs to be more convenient (or more efficient) than the existing car, train, boat and bicycle they aim to replace. These are designs that work, designs that have stood the test of time.

It’s why the Sinclair C5, the Segway scooter and those hard-to-ride electric unicycles didn’t catch on. They weren’t superior to what we already have.

While the Hyperloop promises us more speed (up to 760mph), the passenger drone aims to beat the traffic. Just as long as you live in Dubai, have the money to pay for a flight, and trust an eight-prop, pilot-less drone with a half-hour battery life to fly you thousands of feet above the ground. Half the battle will be convincing people that it’s safe.

Main image copyright: Shutterstock/andrey_l

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