The idea of a “flying car” may be getting close to reality. This tablet-controlled “passenger drone” fits one person and is essentially a bigger version of the unmanned aerial vehicles now becoming common for filming outdoors.
Chinese company EHang unveiled this autonomous aerial vehicle (the correct term for these self-flying passenger vehicles, known as AAVs) capable of carrying a human passenger, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week.
EHang claims its new vehicle, dubbed the 184, is the world’s first electric, personal AAV that will “achieve humanity’s long-standing dream of easy, everyday flight” for short-to-medium distances.
According to the company:
“The ready-to-fly AAV is a manned drone capable of automatically carrying a passenger through the air, simply by entering a destination into its accompanying smartphone app. Due to the 184’s fully automated navigation, made possible by EHang’s 24/7, real-time flight command center, passengers have no need for a pilot’s license – they simply sit back and let the drone take over from there.”
Holy cow, things just got real. EHang notes this first realization of automated flight “signifies a major turning point not only for the transportation industry, but also for a huge swath of other fields such as shipping, medical care and retail.”
If you’ve ever used a modern UAV (drone), you probably recognize how simple they are to fly using global positioning and smartphone technology. They maneuver anywhere in the sky and basically land themselves.
That’s not to say it’s foolproof. Plenty of high-end drones end up crashing at some point, so we’d be slow to hop aboard one of these just yet. However, this is an incredible step toward what could one day be aerial transportation for the masses.
‘Lifetime Goal’ To Make Flight Easier
Said EHang’s CEO Huazhi Hu: “It’s been a lifetime goal of mine to make flight faster, easier and more convenient… the 184 provides a viable solution to the many challenges the transportation industry faces in a safe and energy efficient way.”
He continued, “I truly believe that EHang will make a global impact across dozens of industries beyond personal travel. The 184 is evocative of a future we’ve always dreamed of and is primed to alter the very fundamentals of the way we get around.”
The EHang 184, was named for “one” passenger, “eight” propellers, and “four” arms — thus 184. It was designed with redundant systems for safety, according to the company.
Safety By Design
EHang claims the 184 will be a safe alternative for short trips. “Automated flight eliminates the most dangerous part of standard modes of transportation: human error,” the brand reports.
Beyond automating flight, the brand touts multiple backup systems, a “Fail-Safe System” that automatically lands the vehicle in event of damage or malfunction, multiple sets of sensors that provide the drone a constant stream of real-time data, and an emergency button that allows passengers to halt flight and “simply hover in the air” with a single click.
Ehang 184: Vertical Takeoff And Landing
The EHang 184 takes off and lands vertically, subsequently eliminating the need for runways. It also folds for storage, an important trait if it is to be used in cramped urban settings.
Ehang 184 Specs
- Size: 1.5 meters tall and 200 kilograms (440 pounds)
- Load capacity:100 kilograms (220 pounds),
- Maximum output: 106W powered by eight motors.
- Flight duration: 23 minutes at sea level at average cruising speed of 60 mph.
- Body: cabin for single passenger with a gull-wing door, a trunk and the power system composed of four arms and eight propellers on the bottom. The four arms, when folded, allow the AAV to occupy the same size parking space as consumer cars.
- Inside the cabin is placed a single seat, with a design similar to an F1 racing car seat. In front of the seat is a tablet console, through which passengers can input commands. Additionally, the cabin’s built-in air conditioner automatically adjusts the in-cabin temperature. Complete with 4G Wi-Fi Internet.
We’re not holding our breath for our first ride in the EHang 184 just yet. But with the rapid growth the unmanned aerial vehicle market in recent years, it seems there is massive potential in these devices for transporting passengers.
And while the technology may already be here today, it will likely be a decade or more before regulating agencies catch up. But we’re still excited by the prospect of flying to and from work on the daily commute.
Better start saving those pennies: The EHang 184 comes with a price tag of $200,00 to $300,000.
— Mike Murphy (@mcwm) January 6, 2016