Delivery drones have been in the works for several years, since the likes of Amazon began filing patents – but what was thought to be an April’s Fools gag is well on the way to becoming a reality. At the recent World Government Summit, held in Dubai, senior officials were discussing the arrival of “flying taxis”, more specifically the single passenger-carrying Ehang 184 "MegaDrone" that could launch this summer.
The all-electric giant quadcopter is big enough to propel one passenger up to 60mph with its four arms and eight propellers, and was unveiled at the major CES electronics show in Las Vegas last year. Mattar al-Tayer, the head of Dubai's Roads & Transportation Agency, made the announcement at the summit and Muhammad Obaid, the founder of architecture and engineering consultancy EMKAAN, has recently weighted in on how it could change the cityscape.
The sleek and compact futuristic vehicle opens up incredible potential in the construction and design space, affecting design considerations, explains Obaid in a company statement. Designers will now have to consider having two entries on a building – one on the roof for autonomous drone passengers and one on the ground for regular pedestrians. Parking spaces currently on the ground (if you’re lucky) could be replaced by parking lots on rooftops, dedicated to drones. And construction will no longer be limited to building on flat land, as builders can now reach higher environments, more easily such as mountainous areas.
“Old Dubai”, with its narrow shaded streets and face-to-face human interaction, has already been replaced with highways, skyscrapers, and smartphones, claims Obaid. Getting around the city as quickly as possible has become a priority, and cars have become one of the most important lifestyle tools. Here are three ways the futuristic vehicles will open up incredible potential in the construction and design space, affecting design considerations:
1. BUILDING DESIGN
Designers would now consider having two entries; one on the roof for autonomous drone passengers and one on the ground for pedestrians. Parking spaces currently on the ground, in basements, and multi-storey buildings would be replaced by parking lots on roofs, dedicated to drones. Most likely, ground parking spaces would be replaced by landscaping.
2. THE URBAN COMMUNITY
The current width of roads (15m), designed for cars, will return to its original smaller width prioritising the needs of humans, focusing on microclimates and child safety. Narrowing the streets not only enables more shaded areas, but it also reduces the effect of heat islands. Open squares could be designed at intervals to allow for heat islands to be generated within them, creating movement and cool breezes, changing the microclimate of current cities. A walk in the historic areas of Dubai is a perfect example of this phenomenon. As a consequence, community centres such as shopping malls could be outside, bringing life back to the street.
3. THE CITY AND INFRASTRUCTURE
Location: At present, cities are located where they connect to existing roads. As roads become obsolete for certain transport activities, cities can then be built anywhere. The investment made in connecting these cities to the primary road network can now be put into agriculture.
Topography: Construction is longer limited to building on flat land, as builders can now reach higher environments more easily such as mountainous areas Although the use of drones will not make the use of roads completely obsolete, especially for heavy vehicles, it will certainly reduce the traffic on highways making them last longer and reducing maintenance requirements.
The autonomous drone taxis are a progressive and forward-thinking solution to transportation, exceeding the limits of imagination. Such a development is a perfect example of the UAE Government’s 2021 Vision of building an economy based on knowledge and innovation.