The UAE’s largest and most populous city is notorious for its traffic and fancy car culture – but that’s not to say that it isn’t constantly experimenting with introducing new technologies to ease congestion and improve the overall experience of the city. Earlier this week, Volocopter flew its two-seater electrically-powered Autonomous Air Taxi in Dubai’s sky for five minutes, around 200 meters (656 feet) above ground level.
Based in the German city of Bruchsal, Volocopter claims to reinvent urban mobility. The prototype is quiet, and it has a cruise speed of 50 kilometers (31 miles) per hour and a maximum airspeed of 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour. It measures two meters (78 inches) in height and has a diameter of just over seven meters (275 inches). When it’s ready to launch, the Autonomous Air Taxi should be able to fly independently without remote control guidance and take trips up to 30 minutes at a time. If anything goes wrong, there are several saves, including backup batteries, rotors, and even built-in parachutes.
The concrete jungle that is Dubai was crowned the world’s most polluted city a couple of years ago. In the World Bank’s annual report in 2015, the Arab city topped even more populous ones like India and China. Ever since, the city has outlined plans to become the world’s smartest city, fighting back pollution with green solutions.
Earlier this month, the municipality announced plans to dedicate 500-kilometers (around 310-miles) to bike lanes, slated for completion by 2021. The project aims to encourage exercise in the city, in addition to fostering a culture of compact cities with fewer cars and smoother traffic in the Gulf metropolis.
In March, the city announced plans for a 1.4 million square-meter (800,000 square-mile) public park, that will comprise 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) of pathways, 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) of jogging track, more than 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) of cycle tracks, and seven kilometers (4.4 miles) of nature trails. The park will also include 55 playgrounds, 45 sports grounds, five major events venues, and an area for shops, restaurants and cafes.
In April of 2016, the coastal city decided to monitor littering on its famous beaches and desert camps using unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones. The Dubai Municipality’s move came after the success of using one such drone to monitor landfill sites, noting that cost effectiveness was one of their main motives to automate the inspection of their prized beaches and campsites. “We save money and time as the inspectors do not have to drive around and also, the drones can reach up to places that our employees cannot get to,” said Abdul Majeed Al Saifaie, director of the Waste Management Department. “Instead of having municipality inspectors driving across the city, the drones will be able to fly directly to a number of different locations within a short time, and provide us with data and high-resolution photographs.”
Dubai’s municipality and Volocopter share a vision; being able to hail a flying taxi by simply booking one through an app and waiting for it at a nearby voloport. “It already is capable of flying based on GPS tracks today, and we will implement full sense capability, also dealing with unknown obstacles on the way,” says Florian Reuter, Volocopter’s CEO, adding that the company plans to launch the flying taxi service in Dubai within the next five years.