If the thought of sitting in a driverless car was scary enough, wait to you get a load of what’s coming to the skies near you.
The Times reports that the world’s most ambitious commercial drone project may achieve lift-off in Dubai with the launch of an “Uber for the skies” later this year.
The dream of a pilotless flying taxi has preoccupied entrepreneurs and engineers at EHang, in Guangzhou, southern China, for three years.
The authorities in Dubai said last week that the EHang 184 air taxi would operate from July.
“We have experimented with this vehicle flying in Dubai’s skies,” Mattar al-Tayer, the city’s transport director, said.
The aim of the Dubai smart transport strategy is to make one-in-four journeys driverless by 2030. To that end, Dubai already has had the box-shaped driverless EZ10, built by France’s EasyMile, cruise nearby the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.
Promotional videos of the eight-rotor single-seat “Dubai autonomous aerial vehicle” show test flights in the city and over desert. A businessman is shown booking the Ehang 184 with his mobile.
When it arrives he climbs inside and enters his destination on a tablet.
The drone, which is expected to cost about A$325,000, is designed for one passenger and limited luggage, reports The Times.
It’s built to carry a maximum total of 100kg for up to 23 minutes, flying at about 100kph at a height of up to 500m. After buckling into its race-car-style seat, the craft’s sole passenger selects a destination on a touch-screen pad in front of the seat and the drone flies there automatically
It will also be closely monitored from a command centre on the ground.
Although Dubai authorities envisage a go-anywhere service, it may start with set routes for the tourism and entertainment markets.
No reports yet on the star ratings from those brave enough to be the early guinea pigs.
While the makers say they have performed test-flights with their own engineers in China, the filmed trials in Dubai do not feature passengers.
Huazhi Hu, founder and chief executive of EHang, said his company would devote itself to “making EHang 184 into the safest fully automated means of aerial transport”.
The company said that if a bird hit one of its propellers the EHang 184 could still fly, hover and land safely, and that the chance of all eight propellers stopping was lower than that of winning the lottery.
Some experts, however, are not so confident that the drone is the safest way to whizz around the metropolis of Dubai.
“I’d have to be taken on board kicking and screaming,” Steve Wright, lecturer in avionics at the University of the West of England, tells The Times.