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| 16 August, 2017

Flying taxis to have major impact on Dubai's architecture, says consultant

Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority is due to begin trials of the Volocopter autonomous flying taxi in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority is due to begin trials of the Volocopter autonomous flying taxi in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Dubai Transport/Handout via Thomson Reuters Zawya

16 August 2017

Developers cannot ignore the future and need to start thinking about factoring landing pads for flying taxis into their master plans and project designs, a Dubai-based architect said, with some investors already beginning to request the addition to their plans.

The Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (ESMA) said on Sunday that it is working on a series of rules and requirements for self-driving cars, demonstrating the emirate’s desire to embrace the new mode of transport. 

Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) announced in June it plans to start trials of autonomous air taxis with German-designed Volocopter in the fourth quarter of this year.

Muhammad Obaid, founder of Dubai-based architectural and engineering consultancy Emkaan, told Thomson Reuters Projects in an interview last month that a client had asked to include a flying taxi landing pad in the master plan design for his development.

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“This is (for) a hospitality project in Ras Al Khaimah,” he said but could not name the client or project due to non-disclosure agreements.

“It’s a huge project and he wants to apply this (flying taxi landing pad) to his project.”

While not yet a common request, Obaid said the future deployment of autonomous flying taxis could have a huge impact on building design in Dubai and its ambition to be a ‘future city’.

The emirate set a target in February for one in four journeys in Dubai to be driverless by 2030 through the adoption of fully autonomous buses, the metro, boats, trams, and even autonomous aircraft.

Earlier this month, automobile giant Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler AG, along with other backers, invested 25 million euros ($29.5 million) in Volocopter, signaling growing confidence in the new vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicle’s technology.

Volocopter’s autonomous aerial taxi would work like other ride-hailing services. The company will work closely with the RTA during a five-year testing period.

Obaid said developers need to think about how the futuristic vehicles affect design considerations today if they want to “keep their building(s) adaptive to the future”.

“Of course in some areas there are helicopter landing pads,” he acknowledged, but said the difference between the two modes is that use of autonomous vehicles would be more widespread.

Obaid said designers would now have to consider having two entrances to a building - one on the roof for autonomous drone passengers and one on the ground for pedestrians.

“Parking spaces currently on the ground would be replaced by parking lots on the roofs, dedicated to drones,” the architect said.

Long term, Obaid said he believes the autonomous drone taxis will drive away the need for cars and roads. At present, cities are located where they connect to existing roads. But as roads become obsolete for certain transport activities, cities can then be built anywhere, he explained.

He said the use of drones would not make the use of roads completely obsolete, especially for heavy vehicles. “But it will reduce the traffic on highways, making them (roads) last longer and reducing maintenance requirements,” he said.

“So one day I expect... because even before Dubai announced the flying taxis, all science fiction and expectation is… that the car will vanish very soon. So from my point of view, those who will adapt with this facility, sooner is better and they will be one step ahead.”

Meanwhile, the architect said it is possible to add landing pads to existing structures “as long as we consider the necessary loads”.

“We need to make sure that the existing building can afford the impact (of the load),” Obaid said. “It’s easy to apply as long as we consider the safety. It can be (on) a terrace or the roof… then we need to adapt the elevators to work accordingly.”

He added, however, that open-minded investors could avoid having to make modifications in the near future if they planned ahead.

Founded in 2009, Emkaan has completed architectural modifications and interior design works for the Hotel Donatello, Hotel Cosmopolitan, housing communities in Al Barari, Falcon City, Rashid Hospital and the Al Ain Soccer Academy.

© Thomson Reuters Projects News 2017