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Dubai gears up to operate flying taxis by 2020

It will be one of two cities in the world to run a trial of vertical take-off and landing vehicles conceived by Uber

  • An image of the aerial taxis being conceived by Uber and RTA, the take-off and landing ports and how they coulImage Credit: Supplied
  • An image of the aerial taxis being conceived by Uber and RTA, the take-off and landing ports and how they coulImage Credit: Supplied
  • An image of the aerial taxis being conceived by Uber and RTA, the take-off and landing ports and how they coulImage Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Dubai will begin a trial run of ‘flying taxis’ in 2020, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) confirmed on Wednesday.

The RTA will carry out the test flight of Vertical Take-Off and Landing Vehicles (VToL) in partnership with Uber. A joint study on the modalities of operation is already under way.

According to Uber, the first demonstration network is expected to be ready for Expo 2020.

In a statement sent to Gulf News, the RTA said it is partnering with Uber to launch a demonstration transportation network of VToLs by 2020.  

As part of this partnership, Uber and RTA will conduct a joint study into pricing models, passenger movement and determining possible VToL routes in the city. The study will also identify possible take-off and landing ports, called VertiPorts, around the city.

The statement confirmed that the goal is to launch a demonstration service with passengers in Dubai by 2020. 

In addition to this study, the RTA and Uber will also jointly work out the designs of VertiPorts to be located around the city. 

“We look forward to work in this partnership with the help of aviation authorities and other Dubai collaborators to accelerate safe, quiet and economical VToL aviation in Dubai,” the statement read.

The statement comes after Uber at its inaugural Elevate Summit in the US announced Dubai as one of the two partner cities for the project, the other being Dallas, Texas.

Speaking to Gulf News, Chris Free, the general manager of Uber UAE, shared more details of the project.

“The partnership with the RTA involves finding and introducing economical and efficient future mobility solutions, which over the years will see us introduce UberX and UberPool services as well as the autonomous taxis. Part of this partnership will also see us carry out demand modelling in the region to better understand pricing and network optimisation for VToL,” said Free.

The goal of this partnership is to develop a new on-demand VToL network to enable customers in the future to push a button and get a high-speed flight in and around cities. 

According to Free, the idea for the project was perceived together with Dubai Future Accelerators and Uber then decided to conceive the project and see what a network might look like.

“A project like Uber Elevate or VToL could be perceived only in a city like Dubai where the leadership has a great vision for the urban mobility and is keen on introducing technology to transform Dubai into a smart city. This project will definitely add to Dubai’s push for smart urban mobility system.

“We have been working on the VToL project for the last couple of months. We are looking at traffic demand, studying RTA transport data for the type of trips that could be expected and the busiest locations for taxis. We will see how we can cater to the demand by providing the VToL service.”

According to Free, the aerial vehicles will be initially operated by a pilot and in the next stage the VToLs will fly unmanned. 

“We are working with various manufacturers and looking at different designs. To begin with, these vehicles will have a capacity to transport two people including the pilot, in the next stage we will increase the capacity and one of the ways of doing it is by removing the pilot and flying it unmanned.”

The VToL will be powered by six to eight electric propulsion motors, with the VertiPorts designed to charge the vehicles.

Interestingly, Free says, despite the use of advanced technology, the service will be as cheap as the regular taxi, if not cheaper.

“If you could use this as efficiently as possible with the vehicle charged when it lands, more than one passenger sharing the service and through other techniques we can bring the price low enough for everyone to use,” said Free.

Apart from manufacturers and the RTA, Uber is also working with real estate developers and other stakeholders to build the VertiPorts.

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