Passenger drones to launch as sky-high taxis in Dubai

Residents of Dubai may be able to order an airborne taxi by the middle of 2017 as the Roads and Transport Agency there plans to launch a single-person automated drone service in the city. Photo by EHang/YouTube.com

Feb. 14 (UPI) — As self-driving cars enter wider testing in the United States, residents of the United Arab Emirates may be may be a step or two ahead — single-passenger autonomous drones may start flying around Dubai by July, according to officials there.

Dubai’s Roads and Transportation Agency announced Monday at a summit it has tested a Chinese-made autonomous drone above the city and hopes to roll out a taxi service by July of this year as part of a longer-term plan to reduce traffic congestion there.

In addition to reducing congestion, the self-driving drone taxis will help Dubai get closer to its goal for 25 percent of transportation to be self-driving by 2030, though it expects a variety of vehicles to contribute to the goal.

“The autonomous aerial vehicle exhibited at the World Government Summit is not just a model,” Mattar al-Tayer, head of the Roads and Transportation Agency, said at the summit on Monday. “We have already experimented [with] the vehicle in a flight in [the] Dubai sky.”

The EHang 184, manufactured by the Chinese company EHang, is a quadcopter with two propellers attached to each of the craft’s four legs.

When passengers enter the craft, they choose from a list of preset destinations on a touch screen. The drone can travel about 60 miles per hour at an altitude of 1,000 feet, making trips that last up to about 30 minutes. The drone recharges in two hours, officials say.

The flights are scheduled, routed and monitored by a officials at a ground control center.

The hope, Tayer said, is “to start the operation of the autonomous aerial vehicle in July 2017.”

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