In any science-fiction depiction of the 21st century before, well the 21st century, flying cars were a given. We reasoned that since we'd already conquered the final frontier and landed men on the moon, a flying car is a plausible ask. But how disappointed those futurists would have been with the current reality — looking at regular old gas-guzzling vehicles ensnared in endless traffic jams while their passengers gaze wistfully at the sky, wishing for the ability to fly, or better yet, teleport. Well, teleportation might be a thing for the futurists of today to pine for, but flying cars are finally making a long-awaited appearance.
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No one in the late 1900s would have predicted that Dubai would be the first city to start using flying cars. New York, London, and Tokyo would have been the more realistic choices. But that is not the case. Dubai has managed to evolve from an oil-rich city in the desert to the pioneer of technological and infrastructural advancement in an incredibly short time frame. Home to man-made marvels that include the world's tallest building and the world's largest artificial island, the ultramodern city makes for a marvellous sight. And having conquered land, water, and sky, it’s now attempting to bridge the gap between them with the deployment of autonomous flying vehicles.
Dubai's transport authority recently carried out a successful pilot run of an autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) developed by Chinese drone manufacturer EHang. The AAV, named the EHang 184, is a quadcopter powered by eight propellers and is capable of carrying one passenger at a time. The hover taxi requires minimum effort from the passenger using it. One simply needs to enter the destination in the smartphone app and the vehicle takes off, flies the selected route, and lands at the desired spot, all the while monitored by a command centre on the ground.
The fully electric EHang 184, which has been in development since 2013, has a recharge time of two hours and can make trips of up to 30 minutes. The 1.5-metre-tall, 200-kilogram hover taxi can attain a maximum speed of 100 kilometres an hour and a maximum altitude of 300 metres. Safety has always been a concern with autonomous vehicles and the issue is compounded when said vehicle is few hundred metres above the ground. EHang says that to ensure maximum safety, the 184 won't feature the sense-and-avoid technology currently used by self-driving cars in the US. Instead, it will rely on a fail-safe system that will automatically land the vehicle if it senses that any component on the machine is damaged, reports Forbes. Meanwhile, the company's ground command centre, which is akin to an air traffic controller at an airport, will monitor every operating 184 at all times and will ensure that the AAV doesn't take off in extreme weather conditions. Dubai wishes to put these hover taxis into use as early as July 2017.
This is only one part of the UAE city state's ambitious plans for the future of its transport. Dubai has announced plans to ensure that quarter of its vehicles are self-driving by 2030 – an intent attested by the city signing for the purchase of 200 self-driving taxis from Tesla at the World Government Summit last month. The city's transit authority had also signed a deal with Hyperloop One last year to link Dubai and Abu Dhabi with the company's revolutionary new high-speed rail system.