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Pilotless planes ready for take off. Are you on board?

Pilotless aircrafts are closer than ever to becoming a reality, as Boeing has begun researching the possibility of commercial-passenger jets that will fly without pilots, using artificial intelligence guiding automated controls to make decisions in flight.

“The basic building blocks of the technology are clearly available,” said Mike Sinnett, former chief systems engineer on the 787 Dreamliner and now vice president at Boeing responsible for innovative future technologies, at a press briefing ahead of the Paris Air Show on June 19.

“There’s going to be a transition from requiring a skilled aviator operate an airplane to having a system that operates the vehicle autonomously, if we can do that with the same level of safety,” Sinnett said.

“That’s a really big if,” he added.

Sinnett said his team will fly a simulator this year with an artificial-intelligence system making some of the piloting decisions. In 2018, they will fly the system on a real plane. Those would be experimental flights, with engineers and pilots on board, but no passengers.

In related developments, Uber Technologies is planning to introduce electric aircrafts functioning as ‘flying taxis’ in the US and Dubai by 2020.

One in four journeys in Dubai will be driverless by 2030, under the government’s plans. And this goal will be achieved by fully autonomous buses, the metro, boats, trams, taxis and autonomous aircrafts.

Dubai’s 2030 transport strategy

Behind the push to make Dubai the world’s leader in autonomous transport is the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), the emirate’s transport regulator.

Last year, 8.8 per cent of journeys in Dubai were made on the driverless Dubai Metro — more than 600,000 riders every day. The RTA expects that number to reach 12.2 per cent by 2030.

Serving alongside the metro is the Dubai Tram, which will in the future be fully driverless. By 2030, 6.4 per cent of journeys will also be made by driverless buses.

The RTA’s strategy includes the involvement of ‘global competition’ to draw in innovative companies that deal with driverless transport. More details on this will be announced shortly, according to the transport body.

In total, Dubai’s autonomous mobility strategy is expecting to generate AED22 billion per year, reduce mobility spending by 44 per cent, and curb demand for parking by 50 per cent. As well as water, roads and rail, the RTA also plans to take to the skies — by as early as this July.

In cooperation with Chinese firm EHANG, the transport body is currently testing an Autonomous Aerial Vehicle (AAV). Soaring on eight propellers, the aircraft carries one passenger for up to 30 minutes at a speed of 100 kilometres per hour.

Al Tayer said at the World Government Summit in February that “RTA will spare no effort to launch the AAV in July 2017.”

RTA launches Smart Transport Strategy

Dubai’s declared goal of covering 25 per cent of the city’s trips through self-driving vehicles by 2030 got a major boost as the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) launched a multi-pronged strategy in pursuit of the target on June 10.

RTA announced that Mattar Al Tayer, its Director-General and Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors has approved RTA’s Self-driving Transport Strategy.

Al Tayer said: “RTA’s Self-driving Transport Strategy has several attributes that sets it apart from other strategies. First, the transition to self-driving in Dubai is powered by a government entity whereas it is the private sector that drives this transition in many other cities and countries.”

Among the elements of RTA’s strategy is a global contest between companies with significant expertise in smart transport that the authority will announce soon.

“To realise the objectives of this strategy, RTA is seeking to introduce an array of enablers including enacting legislations and rules for self-driving transport, enhancing public adaptability to this technology, developing conditions and regulations for testing and licensing of self-driving vehicles, chalking up a structure for insurance and liability, and addressing the requirements of infrastructure,” said Al Tayer.

Technology to drive future transport

Enablers will also include developing a structure for e-security along with a technology-driven communication system to ensure effective communication and interaction between vehicles.

Al Tayer added that high-definition e-maps would also be developed to avail the use of technologies and beat geographical and climatic conditions.

“The success of the Dubai Self-driving Transport Strategy rests on several drivers highlighted by the availability of comprehensive and accurate information and sharing them effectively. The recently opened Enterprise Command and Control Centre (EC3) would play a pivotal role in providing real-time and accurate information.”

As research and development (R&D) are key contributors to the success of any technology driven strategy, RTA has forged effective partnerships with renowned global entities and varsities, and entered in consortia with global universities and research centres for commissioning research in self-driving transport capable of addressing futuristic requirements.

Al Tayer added that RTA’s Smart Transport Strategy will assist in planning journeys to multiple destinations using gadgets and smartphones.

“Self-driving initiatives will play an instrumental role in reducing mobility costs, improving traffic safety, and curbing pollution by cutting carbon emissions. They also raise productivity per capita, ease parking congestion, and achieve the integration with Dubai driverless metro, which is characterised by high level of punctuality and cost-effective operation,” said Al Tayer.

According to Al Tayer, RTA has already reaped some of the benefits associated with the self-driving transport through the driverless Dubai Metro.

“When compared to traditional rail systems, the Dubai Metro’s compliance with journey timetables is higher by 6.4 per cent, and runs at an operational cost lower by seven per cent,” said Al Tayer.