Dubai to launch hover-taxis by mid-year to reduce jams

Tesla takes on Gulf gas guzzlers

DUBAI: A model of the EHang 184 autonomous aerial vehicle is displayed at the World Government Summit 2017 in Dubai’s Madinat Jumeirah yesterday. – AFP

DUBAI: Dubai has tested a Chinese prototype of a self-driving hover-taxi, its transport authority said yesterday, with the aim of introducing the aerial vehicle in the emirate by July. The test of the one-man electric vehicle comes as the city-state in the United Arab Emirates seeks to ensure a quarter of its means of transport are self-driving by 2030. The EHang 184 can travel on a programmed course at 100 km an hour at an altitude of 300 m, the authority said in a statement.

A passenger simply needs to select a destination for the autonomous taxi to take off, fly the route and touch down in the chosen spot monitored by a ground control center, it said. The vehicle, made by Chinese drone manufacturer EHang, can recharge in two hours and make trips of up to 30 minutes. “The autonomous aerial vehicle exhibited at the World Government Summit is not just a model,” authority head Mattar Al-Tayer said yesterday. “We have already experimented (with) the vehicle in a flight in (the) Dubai sky,” he said in English.

The authority was “making every effort to start the operation of the autonomous aerial vehicle in July 2017” to help reduce traffic congestion, Tayer said. The quadcopter is powered by eight propellers, the authority said. It has highly accurate sensors and can resist extreme temperatures, it said. The emirate is known for its scorching summers. In November, Dubai agreed a deal with US startup Hyperloop One to study the construction of a near-supersonic transport link to the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi. Home to Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, Dubai is a leading tourist destination in the Gulf, attracting a record 14.9 million visitors in 2016.

Meanwhile, electric carmaker Tesla announced the opening of a new Gulf headquarters yesterday in Dubai, aiming to conquer an oil-rich region better known for gas-guzzlers than environmentally friendly motoring. Elon Musk, the co-founder and chief executive of the American firm seeking to revolutionize the electric car market, was in Dubai to oversee the launch of the Gulf sales push. “The time seems to be good to really make a significant debut in this region starting from Dubai,” Musk told the World Government Summit.

Dubai’s official Media Office said that Musk met UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, who welcomed Tesla’s decision to set up its regional headquarters in the city-state. Sheikh Mohammed, who is also the ruler of Dubai, instructed local authorities to provide Tesla “with the services and logistic support” it needs, said the Media Office. Dubai is one of seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.

Once a sleepy fishing town, it has evolved into a regional business hub and a tourist magnet, thanks to huge investments in luxury resorts and shopping malls. The emirate, seen as the most diversified in the Gulf, has a population of 2.5 million people, most of them expatriates. Despite a state-of-the art metro, many people in Dubai and across the energy-rich Gulf region prefer to get around in SUVs or other luxury cars known to burn a lot of petrol.

Official figures released by Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority in 2015 showed that the number of vehicles in Dubai had doubled over the past eight years, leaving the Gulf emirate with more cars per person than New York or London. If that trend continues, the number of vehicles registered could reach 2.2 million by 2020, when the emirate is due to host the Expo international trade fair. Tesla announced last year plans to build self-driving technology into all its electric cars. “My guess is probably that in 10 years it will be very unusual for cars to be built that are not fully autonomous,” Musk told the Dubai summit yesterday. “I think almost all cars built will be capable of full autonomy in about 10 years.” – AFP

This article was published on 13/02/2017