“This is not sci-fi imagination or an extreme sport for the fearless.”
So reads the opening of the above video, in which we see the Ehang 184 Autonomous Aerial Vehicle in action. It’s essentially a big drone designed to carry human passengers, reportedly the first in the world.
Its creator, Ehang, is a drone company based in Guangzhou, China.
According to the official press release, about 40
test subjects passengers took to the skies during what amounted to over 1,000 flight tests of the 184.
Passengers included Ehang employees, the deputy mayor of Guanzhou, Wang Dong, as well as Ehang founder and CEO Huazhi Hu. Other local government officials also hopped into the drone for a quick ride. “Now that we’ve successfully tested the Ehang 184,” Hu says, “I’m really excited to see what the future holds for us in terms of air mobility.”
Can you imagine? A future where everyone has their own passenger drone? Reminds me a bit of James L. Halperin’s weird future book The Truth Machine and its gyrocopters.
Ehang’s 184 AAV is pretty sturdy: It can reach speeds up to 130 km/h (about 80 mph), and withstand force 7 typhoon conditions. During vertical climbing tests, it reached up to 300 m (984 ft), and can carry a load of about 230 kg (507 pounds).
As the name implies, it’s currently autonomous, with passengers using an on-board touch screen to input their destinations. “Not a pilot?” reads the video, “You don’t even have to touch the joytick. Just set your flight path, push a button, tap TAKE OFF, and let it take you into the sky.”
It can also be controlled remotely, as with any other drone, which was probably good news for those taking part in the flight tests. But this certainly isn’t the craft’s final form: Ehang are now focused on “improving passenger experience” and adding a manual flight control (the first craft seen in the video has manual controls, while others don’t).
As for if and when this sort of thing will become available to the public, there’s probably a long road ahead. CEO Huazhi Hu says the company is following their own road map.
“When it comes to the development and application of any transformative technology,” he says, “first the technological innovation makes an impact, then the relevant policies are created and developed. This goes on to push further development of the industry.”