In June, Dubai’s Road and Transit Authority (RTA) announced its plans to test fly Volocopter’s 200 over the country by the last quarter of this year. The government and Volocopter have succeeded in meeting that timeline, with demonstrations this week of Volocopter’s quiet ability to fly autonomously (although without passengers so far). Aerial transit will be a small part of a much broader scheme, the government intent on providing excellent public transportation, as shown in this well-produced video.
To ensure meeting Dubai’s ambitious goal, Volocopter’s designers tested the machine thoroughly in German skies. Note the Grob Strato 2C by one of the hangars, the twin-engined airplane in which Einar Enevoldson, founder of the Perlan Project, set the still extant world altitude record for propeller-driven airplanes in 1995 – 60.897 feet.
With fresh infusions of 25 million euros from Daimler AG and “serial entrepreneur” Lukasz Gadowski, Volocopter has been able to achieve this early trial as a sky taxi. Both Volocopter (rebranded as Autonomous Air Taxi by the Dubai government) and eHang are flying their multi-rotor craft in Dubai, although the AAT is being shown publicly at this time.
A press release from the government stresses the importance of this test. “HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, attended the maiden concept flight of the Autonomous Air Taxi (AAT), a vehicle that will be used for the world’s first self-flying taxi service set to be introduced by Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA).”
The Crown Prince, along with other dignitaries, attended the test flight, held near the Jumeirah Beach Park. Sheikh Hamdan explained the relevance to Dubai’s future plans. “After the remarkable success of the first driverless metro in the region, we are glad to witness today the test flight of the Autonomous Air Taxi. This is another testament to our commitment to driving positive change. We are constantly exploring opportunities to serve the community and advance the prosperity and happiness of society.”
HE Mattar Al Tayer, Director-General and Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of the RTA assured those present of the safety factors involved.: “The Autonomous Air Taxi has a variety of unique features that include top security and safety standards, and multiple redundancies in all critical components such as propellers, motors, power source, electronics and flight controls. It is also fitted with optional emergency parachutes, [and] nine independent battery systems.”
He noted the battery quick-charge and plug-in system takes two hours to reach full charge in the prototype version, hinting at an action item for the German developers,” …A time that will be significantly reduced in the production version.”
With the skies filling with the hum of eight or eighteen rotors at a time, Dubai’s citizens will doubtless find cause to look up, and often.