The future is now. This week, Dubai's Roads and Transportation Agency announced a plan to roll out single-passenger autonomous drones to ferry people around the city beginning in July. This comes after ride-sharing company Uber announced plans for its own aerial transit service. In response, companies are scrambling to start building the real thing.
Among them are Joby Aviation, Zee.Aero, eHang, and Kitty Hawk. The latter two have Larry Page's full support; he's an investor in both companies. Airbus has also thrown their hat in the flying car ring, at least verbally.
So how close are we really getting to this technology overtaking the skies? Very. The only hurdle? We need test pilots! Kitty Hawk and Zee.Aero have posted fresh job ads recruiting flight test engineers.
Both companies have posted the position out of Mountain View, CA and are requiring pilots with multiple years of flight testing experience and who have experience using various data analysis programs. The description reads: "You will conduct flight testing of innovative prototypes... you'll be energetic, adaptable and a fast learner who can make sound judgments in safety-critical situations." The safety part is perhaps the most critical component of the job. As far as licensing is concerned, you only need to come equipped with a Private Pilot License—the basic license earned by every pilot.
To clarify, the Dubai aircraft will be pilot-less, making it extremely vital that the primary and back-up systems are in place to guarantee a passenger's safety. Steve Wright, an avionics researcher at the University of the West of England says he'd like to see a minimum of 1,000 testing hours put forth before the drones carry anybody.
Then there's the issue of airspace, vehicle spacing and landing, which likely won't get sorted out for quite some time given the layers of government bureaucracy that would be involved in the process.
Dubai could be the perfect "testing" ground for this technology, as the city is very spread out and traffic congestion is a major issue. Since these drones can reach 60+ mph in speed, trips around the city will be quick. Let's just hope they're not too quick.
It is exciting yet uncertain as to how this autonomous drone rollout will take place this summer. If things go according to plan, we may start seeing them across the west within the coming few years. Speaking for those of us who abhor sitting in traffic, this could be our dream come true.