DUBAI: Flying cars have long been the stuff of an imagined sci-fi future — but the technology is real and is set for launch in Dubai as early as July, it emerged on Monday.
The city’s transport boss, speaking at the World Government Summit (WGS), played a video showing an autonomous aerial vehicle zooming through the skies above Dubai, saying that tests of the flying cars are ongoing.
Mattar Al-Tayer, director general of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), said that Dubai aims to be a leader in driverless technology by 2030.
The RTA is currently testing an autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) in cooperation with the Ehang Company of China, he said.
“The AAV on display at the World Government Summit is not just a model but it has really flown in Dubai skies. RTA will spare no effort to launch the AAV in July 2017,” Al-Tayer said.
The “flying car” resembles a giant drone, with eight propellers, and was seen in the video carrying one passenger. It can carry a weight of 100kg and cargo the size of a small suitcase.
Al-Tayer said driverless vehicles, minibuses and boats are being trialled in Dubai; the second phase of the Dubai Tram will have fully driverless trams; and a study has been commissioned on the deployment of driverless express shuttle buses and taxis.
“Autonomous mobility… technology has been tested in several countries including Dubai, Singapore, the United States and Britain. The Government of Dubai is leading the transition to driverless mobility in Dubai and is planning to take a leading position worldwide in autonomous mobility by 2030, whereas in other cities and countries, it is the private sector that leads the process,” Al-Tayer said.
“Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, has launched the Dubai Smart Autonomous Mobility Strategy where 25 percent of all journeys in Dubai would be transformed into driverless journeys by 2030. We anticipate that the percentage of journeys that would be made by the driverless Dubai Metro to reach 12.2% by 2030 compared with 8.8% in 2016. We anticipate that the percentage of journeys made by autonomous buses to reach 6.4% by 2030.”
Al-Tayer told the World Government Summit that Dubai has carved out a “nifty niche” for itself in the development of driverless technology.
“Dubai has also started the test run of driverless minibuses, vehicles and boats, besides considering the options of deploying driverless express shuttle buses, and taxicabs from some leading companies,” he said.
Al-Tayer pointed however to four key challenges facing the autonomous vehicle technology: infrastructure — including map updates, road markings and traffic lights — laws and legislation, safety and public acceptance of driverless vehicles, and technological requirements.
Besides these global challenges, there are other challenges facing Dubai including harsh weather conditions and the corresponding impact on driverless transportation technological systems, and the social makeup of Dubai, which may increase people’s reluctance to embrace modern technology, Al-Tayer said.
“To cope with these challenges, we have prepared Dubai Smart Autonomous Mobility Strategy which, compared to other global strategies, is characterized by the leading role of the Government of Dubai in the transition to driverless mobility, while in other cities and countries, it is the private sector that leads the process. Moreover, Dubai’s vision incorporates all mass transit modes such as trains, buses, marine transit modes and taxis, as well as private vehicles, while many countries focus on a limited number of transit modes.”
Al-Tayer was upbeat about the promising future of this technology. “The journey on an autonomous vehicle will soon be like boarding a lift. All of us trust the closed box that lifts us to different levels as we know it is secure, ready and tested. This is what the RTA is seeking to achieve through autonomous mobility strategy and associated initiatives,” he said.