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Flying car takes to the skies – and that’s just day one of Gitex

heyxpeng.com
Crowds watch the Xpeng car take flight

A flying car made its first public test flight in Dubai Marina on Monday evening. 

The two-seater VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) electric vehicle was built by Chinese manufacturer Xpeng and was one of the star attractions on day one of Gitex Global, the annual technology exhibition that runs until Friday in Dubai. 

The X2 car made a 90-minute flight. Its maker said it produced zero carbon dioxide emissions and had been designed with low-altitude city capabilities in mind, reaching a maximum flight speed of 130 kilometres an hour.

“We are in a very special time, given the market volatility, COVID control in China as well as overall disruptions in supply chain,” Brian Gu, vice chairman and president of Xpeng, said during a panel discussion on Monday.

“It caused a lot of problems in our industry, but I don’t think it stops innovation and growth for us. We continue to grow as a company. We are very excited about the future.

“A lot of the autonomous technology will have to be commercialised in the future and that puts a burden on us because we have a lot of R&D costs to develop, but also the weakness in the consumer demands and disruption that limited our numbers,” he added.

Xpeng was one of about 5,000 exhibitors at Gitex, with event organisers saying the exhibition space had increased by 25 percent since 2021. More than half of the companies showing their wares are newcomers to the event, including Binance, AMD, Tencent and ByteDance.

Brian Gu, Xpeng’s vice chairman and president, spoke at Gitex Global on Monday

Prototypes are on display in areas such as 5G, artificial intelligence, cloud technology, cybersecurity, fintech, blockchain, data analytics and smart cities.

One of the big draws on the first day was Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority, which is showing all-electric, self-driving cars. The RTA said the Cruise vehicles are part of its aim to have a quarter of all journeys in the emirate to be self-driven by 2030, with the first vehicles taking to streets next year.

“This year, my office has partnered with Gitex to ensure that we’re not just showcasing technology, but actually inventing and developing technology,” said Omar Sultan Al Olama, the UAE’s minister of state for artificial intelligence, digital economy and remote work applications, during his opening speech.

Al Olama told delegates the importance of an event like Gitex was that when people from diverse backgrounds “and a spark in their eyes come together, great things happen”.

Speakers on the main stage outlined how technological solutions can address economic challenges and improve productivity.

They included Tian Qi, chief AI scientist at Chinese firm Huawei Cloud, who pointed out that, in the last decade, the computing power of AI algorithms has increased 400,000 times. While previously AI was used in small, simplistic models, he said larger-scale models were being developed, which would be used to address more complex tasks.

Qi said this trend would lead to an increased use of AI in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, oceans, energy and agriculture, in a bid to reduce “labour costs”.

Cisco’s Guy Diedrich, seen here at Gitex 2021, spoke again at this year’s event. Picture: Twitter

Although technology has obvious benefits, Guy Diedrich, global innovation officer and senior vice president at Cisco Systems, said the moral and philosophical issues associated with tech advances had to be discussed too.

“When we talk about technology, we tend to talk about all the features associated with technologies, but we don’t talk about its benefits that could really change the world,” he said. 

He highlighted issues such as equal access to technology, biases within AI algorithms, the lack of diversity in the AI sector, and how technocrats need to focus more on how to improve the world for all humankind.

“If we connected the unconnected, we would instantly lift 500 million people out of poverty, we would also contribute $6.7 trillion to the GDP. It is not just the moral thing to do, [or] the ethical thing to do, but also the economical proven thing to do,” he added.