The first test flight of a drone taxi has taken place in Dubai.
The two-seater vehicle, which looks not unlike a small helicopter, features 18 rotors and is powered by what Dubai calls “clean” electricity.
The prototype that made its maiden flight yesterday has a maximum flight time of about 30 minutes at a cruising speed of 50km an hour and a maximum airspeed of 100km an hour.
Made by German firm Volocopter, the Autonomous Air Taxi flew for a few minutes near the Jumeirah Beach Park watched by the Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed.
“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,” said Sheikh Hamdan.
“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.”
Volocopter hopes to be producing its drone taxis commercially within five years and Dubai has ambitions for self-driving vehicles to account for a quarters of all journeys made in the city by 2030.
Mattar Al Tayer, the head of Dubai's transport authority, said: “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, nine independent battery systems, and a battery quick-charge and plug-in system, which takes two hours to reach full charge in the prototype version, a time that will be significantly reduced in the production version.”
Robotics expert Noel Sharkey told the BBC: “The big challenge will be dynamic obstacle avoidance of other taxis, buildings, birds and delivery drones.
“The skies over Dubai could become uncomfortably crowded very quickly. The ground level of the city could become a dark place of intrigue and mystery like Blade Runner.”