As part of an ambitious plan adopted by the Emirati city, Dubai staged a test flight on Monday for what it said would soon be the world’s first drone taxi service.
The flying taxi developed by German drone firm Volocopter resembles a small, two-seater helicopter cabin topped by a wide hoop studded with 18 propellers. During its trial flight, the helicopter was clear of passengers.
Meant to fly without remote control guidance and with a maximum flight duration of 30 minutes, it comes with plenty of fail-safes in case of trouble: back-up batteries, rotors and, for a worst case scenario, a couple of parachutes.
Volocopter is in a race with more than a dozen well-funded European and US firms, each with its own science fiction-inspired vision for creating a new form of urban transport that is a cross between a driverless electric car and a short-haul, vertical takeoff-and-landing aircraft.
These include aerospace giant Airbus, which aims to put a self-piloting taxi in the air by 2020; Kitty Hawk, a company backed by Google co-founder Larry Page; and Uber, which is working with partners on its own flying taxi strategy.
Alexander Zosel, Volocopter's co-founder and chief innovation officer, said in an interview with Reuters ahead of the Dubai trial: “We only go public when we can show something that flies. We show facts, not visions.”
The company performed its maiden test run in a ceremony staged for Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed.
The UAE has sought to distinguish itself in a region mired in war and strife as a high-tech, forward-looking society.