Israel conducts first test of autonomous flying taxi

Israel hopes autonomous drones will help to ease its traffic problems, as well as give Israeli companies a competitive edge.

Ehang's EH216-S, a Chinese-made drone, one of several tested as part fo the Israel National Drone Initiative, June 5, 2023. Photo by Mark Nomdar/B.Y. Creative & Productions.
Ehang's EH216-S, a Chinese-made drone, one of several tested as part fo the Israel National Drone Initiative, June 5, 2023. Photo by Mark Nomdar/B.Y. Creative & Productions.

Israel has begun conducting initial tests of autonomous drones that could one day serve as public transportation, according to an official statement on Monday.

A series of tests and experimental flights conducted throughout Israel over the past week by 11 companies, in the context of Israel’s National Drone Initiative.

Israel hopes autonomous Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft will help to ease its worsening traffic problems.

“The aircraft being tested now will be able to bypass traffic jams and ease congestion by removing cars and trucks from the roads, in conjunction with air traffic management systems,” said Orly Stern, CEO of Ayalon Highways.

Israeli Transportation Minister Miri Regev said, “The collaborative project examines all the aspects—including regulation and legislative changes—involved in the commercial operation of drones, as an additional tool to deal with congestion.”

Photo by Mark Nomdar/B.Y. Creative & Productions.

Israel’s National Drone Initiative, a partnership between government entities and the country’s Civil Aviation Authority, was launched in 2019.

During the first phase of the initiative, which lasted until 2022 and focused on small cargo flights, more than 60 million shekels ($16 million) were invested in testing. The current phase aims to increase payload capacity and range, as well as the development of a “system of aerial routes in the skies.”

Over the past three years, some 19,000 sorties have been conducted in rural and urban areas, according to the statement.

The goal is to build an ecosystem whereby drones will not only help with traffic congestion but provide commercial and public services more efficiently and give Israeli companies a global competitive advantage.

“This is a new, intriguing and challenging world, with unlimited possibilities for us. We will do everything to ensure that Israel continues to lead and be at the forefront of global research and development on land, air and sea,” said Regev.

Among the drones tested over the past week was AIR ZERO, manufactured in Israel, which can accommodate up to two passengers and a total payload of up to 220 kilograms (485 pounds), for a distance of up to 160 kilometers (99 miles).

Dronery, a subsidiary of Cando Drones, took off for the first time from the Pal-Yam landing pad in Caesarea with Ehang’s EH216-S aircraft, which can carry two passengers, a total of up to 220 kilograms, and fly a distance within 30 kilometers (18 miles) in a fully autonomous flight.

Cando Drones conducted delivery flights between Rami Levy Supermarket branches, night flights in the coastal strip of Hadera in collaboration with the municipality, and traffic monitoring activities at the Nesher-Bar-Yehuda junction.

Down Wind conducted the longest flight in the initiative so far, covering approximately 29 kilometers (18 miles), to open a flight path between Hillel Yaffe Medical Center and Rambam Medical Center.

Over the next two years, the companies participating in the initiative will conduct test flights across the country for one week each month.

These flights will take place in controlled airspace, will cover distances of up to 150 kilometers (93 miles) and will involve heavier payloads.

Ayalon Highways will continue to serve as the pilot site for conducting the demonstrations and will provide the companies with space in its metropolitan control and monitoring center.

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