The Volocopter V2X with the city of Dubai in the background
The Volocopter V2X completed its first public flight demonstration in the city of Dubai. The V2X, an 18-rotor fully autonomous passenger drone, took off from an empty airstrip on the outskirts of Dubai and completed a series of flight maneuvers before returning to land. The two-seat all-electric V2X can fly for up to 30 minutes with a cruising speed of 31 mph and a maximum speed of 62 mph.
“We are glad to witness today the test flight of the autonomous air taxi,” Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed said in a statement. “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.”
German firm Volocopter beat out Ehang , the Chinese manufacturer of the Ehang 184 autonomous passenger drone, to provide drones for Dubai's autonomous air taxi system (AATS).
Dubai government officials hope to begin trial flights of the Volocopter by the end of this year. That would kick off a five year trial period before full implementation of the AATS as early as 2022. By 2030, Dubai wants at least 25% of all city transportation to be fully autonomous.
Volocopter is just one of a multitude of startups and established aerospace firms rushing to develop fully autonomous vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft. While some manufacturers such as Ehang and Volocopter are developing large quadcopters, others such as Airbus and Uber are going a different route with the development of VTOL aircraft with tilted wings (think the Osprey but much smaller). Quadcopters are slower, have less range, and are generally more inefficient than winged aircraft. On the other hand, tilted-wing VTOL aircraft are more expensive to develop and the technology is a couple of years behind that of passenger quadcopters.
Then there is Lilium, a German startup that is developing a fully electric VTOL small jet called the Eagle. Lilium recently raised a fresh $90 million in venture funding and is working on a larger five seat air taxi version of twp-seat Eagle. The Lilium jet can reach speeds of 186 mph and has a flight time of 1 hour.
While there are lots of competitors in the VTOL air taxi sector, many cities, save for Dubai, have yet to embrace the technology. VTOL air taxis are at least 5-10 years away from the mass market, mostly as a result of the plethora of technological and regulatory hurdles facing firms. However, Volocopter has positioned itself at the forefront of the air taxi sector with its partnership with the Government of Dubai.
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