Footage released by the Chinese drone maker show their EHang 184 “autonomous aerial vehicle” zipping through the air at 80 mph (130 kph) with a live person aboard its sleek cabin. EHang claimed that single and two-seat versions of its megadrone have successfully carried 40 different passengers on “thousands of test flights” since 2014. One of those passengers was Deputy Mayor Wang Dong of Guangzhou, the host city for megadrone test flights.
“Performing manned test flights enables us to demonstrate the safety and stability of our vehicles,” said Huazhi Hu, founder and CEO of EHang.
“What we’re doing isn’t an extreme sport, so the safety of each passenger always comes first.”
The EHang 184 was tested in a multitude of weather conditions, including the gale-force winds of a hurricane.
“Now that we’ve successfully tested the Ehang 184, I’m really excited to see what the future holds for us in terms of air mobility,” said Hu.
A driverless flying taxi
The EHang 184 megadrone is an autonomous aerial vehicle that can transport one or two people. Its maker described it as the first of its kind in the world.
Essentially a small helicopter, it doesn’t need runways, just an open area big enough for it to land and take off. Four arms extend from the central body of the EHang 184. Each arm mounts a pair of rotors for lift and propulsion.
Powered by electricity, it can fly at speeds of up to 80.7 mph (130 kph) for 23 minutes, giving it a range of more than nine miles. The megadrone flies 10 miles faster than traffic on Mississippi’s interstate highways, which post the highest speed limits in the U.S. at 70 mph.
The Verge reported that the EHang megadrone could execute a 984-foot (300-meter) vertical climb. The single-seat version boasted a carrying capacity greater than 500 pounds (230 kg), while the two-seat model raises that to 617 pounds (280 kg).
All a rider needs to do is get inside the EHang 184 and select a destination on a touchscreen. The drone flies itself. (Related: Testing has begun on a self-flying taxi expected to launch in 2020.)
Sensors aboard the craft gather data during the entire flight. This real-time information is used to plot the quickest and safest route to the destination.
To improve passenger safety, EHang runs a command center whose personnel perform much the same role as air traffic controllers at a conventional airport.
The drone command center ensures the safety of every airborne 184 on a 24/7 basis. Controllers will stop a megadrone from taking off if the weather is too rough. They can also assume remote control if the situation calls for it.
EHang intends to integrate its command center with standard air tower operations.
Residents of Las Vegas, Nevada have probably seen the EHang 184. The prototype was unveiled there in 2016 and EHang had permission to test it in Nevada’s airspace.
In a 2016 interview with The Daily Mail, EHang co-founder George Yan claimed riding the 184 felt 10 times better than riding a Ferrari.
“I think in all of us there is that little kid in all of us that says I want to fly,” he shared.
“I don’t want to get a pilot license after five or 10 hours of flying. I want to do it right away. We’re making that dream happen,” said Yan.
EHang intended to demonstrate its 184 megadrone at the World Government Summit in Dubai this year. The company has made no announcement regarding its commercial debut.
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