Boeing’s newly launched HorizonX venture capital fund and start-up incubator is coming to the Middle East – and the UAE, specifically.

HorizonX officials have already held discussions with Dubai’s regional transportation authority (RTA) about the Emirate’s vision for establishing an autonomous, flying taxi service by 2020, says Steve Nordlund, Boeing’s vice-president for HorizonX.

“We fully support their vision for innovation in transportation,” Nordlund says.

Boeing’s specific role in fulfilling that vision is still open to discussion, he adds.

Unlike Airbus, Boeing has not launched or invested in a start-up with an autonomous, vertical take-off and landing air taxi concept.

But Boeing has invested in several companies that can provide all of the pieces necessary to develop such a vehicle, Nordlund says.

Boeing’s recently closed acquisition of US-based Aurora Flight Sciences adds a specialist in autonomous aircraft controls and rapid prototyping. On top of that, HorizonX has made investments described in the low single-digit to mid-teen millions in seven technology start-ups, including autonomous navigation provider Near Earth Autonomy and artificial intelligence guru SparkCognition.

Although the CityAirbus concept is due to fly by the end of the year, Boeing does not feel pressure to be first to market in the autonomous VTOL air taxi field, Nordlund says.

“This has to happen at the right pace from a safety standpoint,” he says.

Nordlund likened Boeing’s position to the period when Apple introduced the iPod. There were already several music storage devices on the market at the time the iPod was introduced, he says, but Apple’s approach and technology catapulted its product to the top of the market anyway.

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