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Flying and self-driving taxis: Dubai embraces the future of transport

  • There is also talk of delivery robots - four-legged, semi-human vehicles that can deliver online purchases and medical supplies
Published October 3, 2023

Not only are self-driving taxis ready to hit the streets of Dubai soon but flying taxis will also be a reality in another three years as the city embraces the future of mobility with open arms.

Last week, Duncan Walker, CEO of Skyports, said flying taxis will be seen in Dubai in early 2026. They are projected to reduce the travel time from Dubai International Airport to Palm Jumeirah from 46 minutes to just 6.

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“This groundbreaking venture will travel at a maximum distance of 241 km, cruising at speeds of up to 300 km per hour,” he said at the Dubai World Congress for Self-Driving Transport held by the city’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) with the theme ‘Empowering Mobility 4.0.’

As per a press release by RTA, Walker lauded Dubai as an exceptional global model in air travel.

He said the key factors underpinning the success of flying taxis in Dubai included the construction of ultra-modern vertiports (take off and landing pads for flying vehicles) at premier locations across the emirate: the Dubai International Airport, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai Marina, and Downtown.

Other factors included government support and coordination, robust regulatory measures, and a strong demand for the service, he said.

Walker stressed that projects like this one “were poised to catapult the emirate to the forefront of global cities advancing air mobility.”

Fully autonomous taxis

According to a report in CNN, five fully autonomous electric taxis, operated by General Motors subsidiary Cruise, will begin test driving on an 8km stretch in the Jumeirah district.

Ahmed Bahrozyan, RTA’s CEO, told CNN the emirate hopes to become the first Middle Eastern city to introduce driverless taxis, which already operate in several countries including the US and China.

Meanwhile in a session titled ‘Robo Taxi Service in Dubai’ at the congress, Prashanthi Raman, Vice President of Global Government Affairs at Cruise, said “we are working with RTA to realise the Dubai government’s vision and ambitious goals of transforming 25% of mobility journeys in Dubai into smart and driverless journeys by 2030.”

A Khaleej Times report said people cannot use the taxis - all-electric, emission-free Chevrolet Bolts that can accommodate up to three passengers - during the trial phase but select individuals will be able to use them by the end of this year. Full commercial operations are expected in the second half of 2024.

The complete operation of driverless taxi and e-hail services will make Dubai the first city in the world to commercially operate Cruise self-driving vehicles outside the US.

Dubai is also working on an Autonomous Transport Zone, which it hopes will be a world-first, “encompassing a vast array of autonomous transport modes, including light vehicles and autonomous delivery robots,” said RTA.

35 flying taxis will ‘take off’ from Dubai resort in 2026

MoUs signed on the sidelines of the congress included one aimed to undertake trials for operating autonomous buses in Dubai.

Delivery robots

There was also talk of delivery robots - a four-legged, semi-human vehicle designed that can deliver online purchases and medical supplies.

Dr Marko Bjelonic, founder of advanced mobility company Swiss Mile, said the advantages of these robots include “reducing carbon emissions, reducing traffic congestion, improving customer satisfaction, and charting a more sustainable future for delivery.”

Meanwhile, Dr Steven Shladover, an expert in self-driving transportation technologies, emphasised the need for the formulation of robust safety systems, regulations, laws, and standards for autonomous vehicles.

His Excellency Mattar Al Tayer, Director-General, Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of the RTA, said the aim of the event was “to explore top practices and exchange ideas.. to review the latest developments and innovations in autonomous mobility.”

“Furthermore, the congress aims to elevate community awareness of the latest and future transportation technologies and gauge their impact on investments and mobility strategies.”


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