High in Dubai: Passenger drones to take flight

A drone that can carry humans – mortal humans – is set to operate regularly in Dubai starting in June this year. First unveiled at CES 2016, the futuristic-looking drone doesn’t look too dissimilar from those you’d buy as an extravagant Christmas gift. Except that it will be used to transport people.

The model was developed in China, and goes by the name eHang 184. Matt al-Tayer, head of Dubai’s Roads and Transportation Agency has announced that the model has undergone test flights, and can carry one passenger weighing up to 220 pounds. Flight time is an estimated 30 minutes, and it can reach speeds of 100 miles an hour.

As if to stave off his own incredulity, Mr al-Tayer affirmed that “This is not only a model. We have actually experimented with this vehicle flying in Dubai’s skies.”

The BBC spoke to Dr Steve Wright, senior lecturer in avionics and aircraft systems at the University of the West of England, who shared my scepticism (although imbued it with slightly more authority): “The way these systems work, making them work normally is easy. The tricky bit is making systems that are resilient to failure […] I would like to see the drone flying for at least 1000 hours before I saw a human in it.” When asked if he would be partaking in early-stage flights, Dr Wright replied “I’d have to be taken on board kicking and screaming.”

The device – and it is a device – can purportedly fly 31 miles (50km) on a single battery charge. Except that if the battery dies, it doesn’t just mean no Spotify on the commute home, but rather a lonely plummet to one’s death. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather just take the bus.

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