Amazon has been talking about using delivery drones for sometime now; however, if you’re in Dubai later this year, the delivery drones could be dropping off more than packages — they could be delivering people.
In fact, the drones will be autonomous, marrying two of the latest trends in transportation. Dubai’s Roads & Transportation Agency has cleared the way for Chinese-made EHang 184s to dot the city’s skyline.
The move isn’t all that surprising. Dubai’s leader, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, said last year that he wants to the city to be on the cutting edge of transportation technologies. The city has already cleared the way for autonomous vehicles and Elon Musk’s Hyperloop is going to get its first real-world trial linking Dubai with Abu Dhabi.
Al Maktoum wants 25% of all passenger trips in the city to be done by driverless vehicles in 2030. More immediately, the EHangs, which are also poised for testing in Nevada after being introduced at CES last year, are flavor of the moment.
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The four-legged, eight propeller craft looks like a drone on steroids. It does have a few limitations, such as the egg-shaped craft can only take one person at a time, weighing no more than 220 pounds, plus a small suitcase.
The drone’s battery allows for just 30 minutes of flight time and a range of about 31 miles. It does have an impressive top speed of about 100 mph, but will operate closer to 60 mph.
Getting a ride isn’t all that dissimilar to using Uber or Lyft. All passengers need to do is open the app and enter their destination. The drone then maps the route and transports the passenger to their destination. The downside is that it can’t fly directly to the spot, instead it essentially hops from one set landing spot to another.
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Once it lands, its propellers fold inwards as it lands so it can fit in a single car parking space. Designed to be secure, the autonomous vehicle has a “fail safe” system, according to the company, that prompts it to land in the nearest place if anything malfunctions or disconnects.
It also communicates via encrypted channels. Additionally, though it is autonomous, drones are monitored remotely in the event something goes wrong an operator can assume control of the craft.
Mattar al-Tayer, head of Dubai’s transportation agency, said recently that drone service would begin in July, but declined to elaborate further.
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The Road and Transportation Agency later issued a statement saying the drone had been examined by the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and was controlled through 4G mobile internet, according to The Associated Press.