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A recent test-drive of an autonomous Taxi in Dubai made aviation history, while also sending UAE confidence levels skyrocketing. The German-made autonomous vehicle flew 200 metres above the ground for five minutes. The air-taxi is designed currently to carry 100kg, which includes the passengers and any luggage. However, for people who are used to the current on-ground modes of transport, being ferried 200m in the air for 20 to 30 minutes in a vehicle going 50 km/h (upto a maximum of 100 km/h) is a scary proposition. “The air-taxi has top security and safety standards” Mattar Al Tayer, Director-General and Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) told ameinfo.com. “It’s 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” he added. Meanwhile, Michael Rudolph, Head of Aviation Regulations and Safety, Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA), notes: “This is a something that has never been done before. We are so happy that this happened in Dubai. From a DCAA perspective, this proof-of-concept flight makes history.”
The RTA has endorsed a plan to put 3,268 new cabs on the road from 2016 to 2020, raising the total number of taxis in operation to 12,765 vehicles. Autonomous air-taxis, however, will take another five years to actually become operational, but authorities assure that they will be easy to use.
This initiative is part of a plan by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to ensure that one quarter of all journeys, including by air, will be driverless by 2030. However, a majority of these will take place on driverless metro trains and, of course, autonomous land-based taxis.
France-headquartered aeronautics firm Airbus has also got into the air-taxi game, with Vahana, the flying taxi project it plans to launch in 2020. This model features air speeds of 230 km/h, according to Airbus A3 head of autonomous systems Arne Stoschek, and can accurately avoid potential air collisions without even braking, much to future passengers’ relief.