Technology First Look

Coming soon to Dubai: A flying passenger-carrying drone

The Dubai government says it hopes to have a passenger-carrying drone buzzing through the skyline of this futuristic city-state by July.

A model of EHang 184 and the next generation of Dubai Drone Taxi is seen during the second day of the World Government Summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Monday,.
Jon Gambrell/AP
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Commuters who've dreamed of hitching a ride to work on a flying drone may soon get their wish – if they're in Dubai, anyway.

In the latest move to ease traffic congestion, the United Arab Emirates city rolled out a passenger-carrying drone on Monday, announcing a plan to have regular operations of the drone by July.

The egg-shaped, four-legged craft – a Chinese-made EHang 184 – has already flown over Dubai’s iconic, Burj al-Arab skyscraper hotel, authorities said Monday at the World Government Summit.

“The autonomous aerial vehicle exhibited is not only a model," said Mattar al-Tayer, the head of Dubai's Roads & Transportation Agency. "We have actually experimented with this vehicle flying in Dubai's skies."

With a battery powered to handle a 30-minute flight time and a 31-mile range, the craft can carry one passenger weighing up to 220 pounds and a small suitcase. While it has a top speed of 100 mph at an altitude of 1,000 feet, the officials said it will be operated generally at 62 mph.

To get the autonomous hover-taxi running, a passenger would simply need to select a destination on a touch-screen pad in front of the race-car-style seat. Though the drone will still be monitored remotely from the ground, EHang says the totally automated feature will make the machine safer by eliminating “the most dangerous part of standard modes of transportation, human error,” according to Tech Crunch.

You don’t need to have a pilot license,” Shang-Wen Hsiao, co-founder and chief financial officer of the Chinese startup, told the Financial Times in 2016.

The personal drone, which debuted at the 2016 CES in Las Vegas, aims to help cities solve congestion issues, according to Mr. Hsiao. And this goal, fits nicely with the imminent needs of the commercial capital of the United Arab Emirates, fitting right into its bold visions of the future.

The most populous city in the country, Dubai has been trying to tackle its traffic problem in recent years. According to the Arabian Times, congestion on roads in 2013 cost the city $790 million in wasted fuel and time, R&T revealed in 2015. The problem might be rooted in the country's affluent culture, suggests the Car Connection's Richard Read:

There's a very strong car culture in the country, and people love to drive. However, the population tends to be concentrated in major cities like Dubai, which creates massive traffic headaches.

With this in mind, in 2014 city officials considered an income-based limit on car ownership.

"Everybody has their luxury life, but the capacity of our roads cannot take all of these cars without ownership laws," Dubai’s director general Hussain Lootah said at the time.

But facing a growing population, Dubai has apparently turned to driverless vehicles as an answer to ease its car-clogged roads. Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, announced in April that he wanted 25 percent of all passenger trips in the city to be done by driverless vehicles by 2030.

In addition to a system of small, self-driving buses – French-made EZ10 – the government also signed a deal with Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One, investigating the possibility of building a high-speed hyperloop line between Dubai and the country's capital city of Abu Dhabi.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.