Dubai Says Drone Taxis Could Take Off This Year

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Small enough to fit into a car parking space when folded up, the electric-powered one-seater passenger drones are made by Chinese company Ehang. They have already been seen hovering above the sand dunes near the city's airfield during test flights.

"The 184 provides a viable solution to the many challenges the transportation industry faces in a safe and energy-efficient way," said Ehang founder and CEO Huazhi Hu when the vehicle was unveiled during the 2016 CES gadget show in Las Vegas.

Dubai's Road & Transport Authority says the futuristic venture is part of a strategy to have self-driving vehicles (of all kinds) account for a quarter of journeys made in Dubai, by 2030.

The drones can transport up to 100 kilograms -- enough for one person and a suitcase -- on a pre-programmed route through the city. The passenger just needs to pick the destination through a smart screen [once inside the vehicle] and the AAV takes care of the rest. In theory, at least.

With a current 30-minute maximum battery time, they won't take you very far. And then there are the usual concerns about drones in busy airspaces and the safety of driverless vehicles.

But like it or not, automated passenger drones will become a reality, Captain Ross Aimer, CEO of US-based Aero Consulting Experts, told CNN.

"It's the future," he told CNN. "We have the technology and it can be done. It's time."

"The passenger drone is really just one step up from the delivery drones we've seen perforating the skies in recent years,"

A pilot himself, Aimer has identified both pros and cons with the driverless technology.

Among the caveats is the question of what happens if ground control loses the connection to the drone, he says.

"That's most people's concern with any pilotless aircraft. We have the technology to send a signal to that aircraft and control it and communicate with it, but what happens if that technology is interrupted for some reason?” Aimer added.

According to Ehang, in the event of any problems the drone will immediately land at the nearest safe spot. But that may not be enough to reassure everyone. 

As Aimer puts it -- "My question is: who's gonna be the man or woman crazy enough to be the first passenger?"

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