Author(s): Raghu Gopal
At CES 2016, Chinese drone maker EHang showed off a passenger-carrying drone called EHang 184. At the time, the concept of a consumer-grade drone capable of transporting people seemed too far-fetched. But this week, the company released a pretty impressive video of a passenger flying in the vehicle.
EHang, founded in 2014, has essentially developed a mini helicopter that's designed to fly with one passenger on board. The company says its more than 150 technical engineers have conducted a thousand test flights, including a vertical climb to 300 metres, a flight carrying a load of about 230kg, a routed 15 km test flight as well as a high-speed cruising test that supposedly hit a top speed of 130 kph.
The EHang 184 drone is intended for short flights, like commutes within a city. After a passenger gets inside, they can bring up a large touch screen running Google Maps to indicate where they wish to fly to within the vehicle's designated range. Once selected, the drone takes a preset route to transport the passenger to their destination.
According to EHang CEO, Huazhi Hu, the vehicle is easy to use and flies safely and precisely thanks to its advanced on-board operating system.>
EHang isn't the only player in the airborne taxi space. A company called Volocopter demonstrated its own self-flying vehicle developed with Intel at CES 2018. Bell Helicopter is also developing passenger drones, working with Uber to bring flying taxis to life, and hoping to roll out a service in several years.
For now, it seems EHang has made significant progress, creating a prototype that really can take to the skies. It's interesting to see just how far it has come with its drone technology since it debuted the EHang 184 at the Las Vegas tech show in 2016. However, like others in this field, the company has its work cut out, as it must deal with a long list of regulations and requirements from transport authorities and local governments before its vehicles can make commercial flights.