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Dubai takes first step towards autonomous air taxis

The experts who run the transportation system in Dubai are determined to be first in the world to offer a safe, autonomous air-taxi system to their citizens, and they took a step in that direction this week when they partnered with Volocopter to provide the aircraft.

Volocopter, formerly known as e-volo, is a German company working to develop a safe, redundant, easy-to-fly personal aircraft that can take off and land vertically. The company recently unveiled version two of the aircraft, which has been in development for six years.

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The two-seat all-electric Volocopter 2X is designed to be flown by a human pilot, using very simple and intuitive controls, because that's all that current regulations allow, the company said. But the technology can easily be adapted to enable remote-controlled and even autonomous flight.

Officials at Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority said they plan to handle 25 percent of all passenger travel in the city via autonomous transportation by 2030. Their test runs using Volocopter's technology are scheduled to start by the end of this year, and will be the first of their kind in the world.

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The testing phase is expected to take five years, during which time the government will work to develop a regulatory framework for the air-taxi system while Volocopter works on refining the aircraft. Volocopter is also developing a four-seat version of the aircraft and plans to get it approved by aviation authorities in both Europe and the U.S.

Alexander Zosel, co-founder of Volocopter, says the Dubai experiment is just the beginning. "We see Dubai as the pioneer for a huge evolving market," he said. If the project is successful, it will serve as a showcase for the rest of the world to follow.

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