Dubai is hoping to begin commercial operations of pilotless aerial taxis in the next five years, according to a senior Road and Transport Authority (RTA) official.
Last week, the government entity signed a new partnership with Volocopter, a German manufacturer of autonomous air vehicles, and is set to conduct a trial test of the autonomous air taxis during the last quarter of 2017.
The introduction of driverless flying taxis is part of the Dubai government’s 2030 initiative, unveiled in April 2016, which aims to have 25 percent of the emirate's transport autonomous by 2030.
The government expects autonomous transportation modes will help generate increased economic revenues, as well as savings of up to $5.99 billion (AED22 billion) a year.
In an exclusive interview with Arabian Business, Ahmed Bahrozyan, RTA Licensing Agency CEO, and chairman of the smart vehicles committee, said the emirate is serious about launching aerial vehicles and has commenced on the journey to be ready for the future.
“Though we believe the service will be operational in the next five years, there is a lot of work for us to do as a city and for the technology to reach a stage where it can become a reality where you can use your mobile phone to call an autonomous aerial taxi," Bahrozyan said.
"We believe it will happen otherwise we would not have signed a partnership like this.”
While the RTA will hold just one “basic” trial later this year, it is in talks with Volocopter and Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA) to hold more complex trials.
Speaking about the RTA's tie-up with Volocopter, Bahrozyan said the German company was “more advanced than many other developers of aerial vehicles”.
“Our analysis revealed Volocopter to be the number one developer amongst aerial vehicle manufacturers," he said.
"They have already received certification from the German aviation authority, which is respected worldwide for its stringent safety standards. Besides, they aren’t just looking to be the first ones to fly such vehicles, but are visualising running an operation in a city. And for them Dubai is an exciting city to start with.”
The Volocopter aircraft is designed to fit two people and is equipped with 18 rotors which make very low noise. The environment-friendly vehicle has a maximum flight time of 30 minutes at a cruise speed of 50 kilometres per hour (km/h), and a maximum airspeed of 100 km/h. The batteries can be recharged in mere 40 minutes.
Bahrozyan insisted that despite the Volocopter trials, Dubai is open to more partnerships with aerial vehicle developers.
In February, the RTA and China’s Ehang Company announced the first test run of a single passenger autonomous aerial vehicle (EHang 184).
“This does not mean that they [Volocopter] will be our only partners. We aren’t giving anybody exclusive partnership. But being our first partners they will get privileges such as to work with us in developing the technology and helping the city to become ready for aerial transportation. They will also work with us in setting up the legislation, the standards and the certification process for these kind of vehicles,” Bahrozyan said.
On the issue of “EHang 184”, Bahrozyan said they still remain in talks with the Chinese company and have asked them to incorporate additional safety features.
“Since the government summit, we have actually worked with from DCAA and have set some standards for safety for these aerial vehicles. These have been provided to Ehang. They are required to fulfil it in order to do additional trials in Dubai,” he added.
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