Ehang’s Autonomous Passenger Drone Takes Flight

Last year the Chinese UAV company Ehang first revealed its autonomous passenger drone, the Ehang 184, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Now, almost exactly a year later, the company has released footage of the multi-rotor drone undergoing unmanned flight tests.

The Ehang 184 uses eight electric motors to power eight propellors on the end of the aircraft’s four arms (arranged as upper/lower pairs, two to an arm). The passenger vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) aircraft resembles a bigger version of a conventional quadcopter drone, only this one carries humans instead of camera gear. Ehang says the aircraft should be able to fly for 23 minutes, which will take you roughly 20 miles with a payload capacity of 264 pounds. The Ehang 184 is currently priced at a very steep $200,000.

The video above shows the Ehang 184 conducting multiple flight tests including takeoff, landing, altitude, and night-flying tests, but it’s unclear whether the aircraft in the video is a full-scale prototype of the 184. You can also see an early version of the ground control center where Ehang plans to monitor all flights in real time and communicate with passengers in normal flight or emergency situations.

But Ehang still needs to make the 184 autonomous and program the passenger drone to use a 4G network to follow GPS routes and detect any hazards in flight. Since there are no onboard controls, there are plenty of safety concerns regarding how the aircraft would respond to an emergency situation, such as a bird impact or sudden wind change.

Ehang’s rapid progress in just a year almost makes an autonomous drone transportation seem possible, but the 184 still has a long way to go to fulfill that farflung dream.

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