Aircraft

A closer look at the Ehang 216 pilotless air taxi

A closer look at the Ehang 216...
Ehang flounder Hu Huazhi goes for a ride in the 216 autonomous air taxi
Ehang flounder Hu Huazhi goes for a ride in the 216 autonomous air taxi
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Ehang demonstrating the 216 pilotless air taxi for in-city commercial sightseeing
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Ehang demonstrating the 216 pilotless air taxi for in-city commercial sightseeing
Ehang flounder Hu Huazhi goes for a ride in the 216 autonomous air taxi
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Ehang flounder Hu Huazhi goes for a ride in the 216 autonomous air taxi
Ehang demonstrates its two-passenger 216 pilotless air taxi in Vienna
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Ehang demonstrates its two-passenger 216 pilotless air taxi in Vienna
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Earlier this month, Ehang took to the air with its Autonomous Aerial Vehicle for the first flight in the US. It wasn't the single-seater 184 model revealed at CES 2016, but a two-passenger version called the 216. Specs on the new autonomous air taxi were scant at the time, but let's take a closer look now.

Ehang reports that it has conducted more than 2,000 passenger-grade flight tests of its Autonomous Aerial Vehicles in the few years that the company has been operating, including in winds of 70 km/h (43 mph) and in fog, with visibility around 50 m (165 ft).

The 184 was subsequently retired in favor of the upgraded and enhanced 116. Both the new single-seater 116 and the two-passenger 216 have 16 independent rotors spread across eight arms that surround the botto of the passenger cabin. Both air taxis are capable of a top speed of 130 km/h (80 mph), and will cruise at around 100 km/h.

Fully laden (it can carry a total payload of 220 kg/485 lb), the 216's batteries will provide up to 21 minutes in the air, which is a couple of minutes longer than the 116. It's been designed to fly up to 3,000 meters (around 9,840 ft) above sea level.

The pilotless air taxi is equipped with a large panoramic windshield and two gull-wing doors. Ehang says that the interior has been designed for simplicity, comfort and convenience. Passengers select their destination from available options displayed on the 12-inch control panel to the front.

Ehang demonstrating the 216 pilotless air taxi for in-city commercial sightseeing
Ehang demonstrating the 216 pilotless air taxi for in-city commercial sightseeing

The AAVs have proprietary in-flight operating systems installed. The autopilot and flight control system, for example, gathers data from accelerometers, gyroscopes, a magnetic compass, barometers, visual sensors, GNSS receivers, millimeter wave radars and more, using this information to make "intelligent navigation decisions" courtesy of advanced algorithms. Other systems include communications, battery management, and safety management – with support coming from a command center on the ground.

Designed flight distance is reported to be 35 km (21.7 mi), which should be enough for a few short hops across the city before the batteries need recharging for 120 minutes.

Ehang has also developed non-passenger AAVs for smart city management (such as environmental monitoring and traffic control), logistics (as an alternative to ground-based hauling) and media applications (perhaps flying in formation as a choreographed show piece).

The US flight test at the beginning of January was an unmanned technology demonstration flight, and there were no passengers aboard. Ehang is now seeking FAA approval for flights carrying passengers in the near future.

Meanwhile, Ehang has already delivered nearly 40 air taxis to customers for testing, training and demonstration purposes, and has nearly 50 orders to fill. The company is currently shooting for regulatory approval for commercial operations in China, while helping a customer to obtain similar approvals in Europe.

Source: Ehang

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9 comments
paul314
I'm still having trouble seeing the use case for this except in cities that are completely gridlocked or for passengers who absolutely positively have to make a fancy entrance (except for that part about where to land). Maybe a shuttle between separated offices, or delivery of crucial samples and other items? In the US, this wouldn't really work for, say, transit from major airports to downtown unless you were willing to have your checked luggage shipped separately.
guzmanchinky
If they are quiet I am all for it.
John Hagen-Brenner
Clearly, these will not be able to land just anywhere. With all those chop-o-matic blades, they will be restricted to fenced and controlled landing pads, which will have a significant footprint, and I imagine, not be terribly plentiful. They're not going to land in your back yard to pick you up. Before such a service becomes operational, and there will be competing air taxi services, there will need to be a central, independent air traffic control system coordinating these flight paths with all commercial and military aviation. And then there's the issue of the AI flight software's dependability navigating 3D space. Consider the challenges of the self-driving cars and the fatalities we have already seen there.
Nelson Hyde Chick
And the urban environment is not loud enough now, let us ramp that up with these things to make urban life truly unbearable. Of course these things will be foro0nly the wealthy, so they can fly over the masses in comfort while making life worse for the 99%.
Graeme S
Question, would you get in any aircraft that only has a 21 minute flight time,
LiamC
I think that these could really thrive in a very built up metropolis type city and hop between building roof tops. A lot of tall buildings have got helipads already that are hardly used, these could be an ideal solution for people moving about in a more vertically orientated city. Battery life and efficiencies will improve as technology does, just look at the evolution of the car, from having to have a flag bearer walk in front to warn people to self driving capable vehicles! People will always be averse to change, especially when there is such a big leap forward.
MarkGatti
follow the money , big investments in this tech, not rocket science .. yet .. its coming ,price of a car in mass production , range will get greater exponentially , parking, plenty of roof tops,modify garages ,parking spaces with landing covers . already have gps tracking ,collision avoidance , multi fail safe systems ,rocket deployed parachutes , air bags, noise cancelling tech ,have had silent helicopters for 20 years . But please ! naked limb slicing carbon blades , is this a population controll weapon ! ? .ducted fans please .
bwana4swahili
Still working on a way to survive crashes from altitudes below 100 ft.!
bkwanab
As a pilot and engineer, I question some of the design features. Why are the rotors mounted close to the ground? This can contribute to air flow instability when on or close to the ground. It is also a passenger safety issue as they can potentially walk into the rotors. I would install the lifting elements above the passenger pod, adding stability in flight (I've never seen a bird with wings below their body), potentially reducing passenger contact. Lastly, why two doors? With the lifting structure above the pod it would be easy to have a single front opening door. Think on an Isetta/BMW bubble car from the 1960s. I accept that it can be structurally simpler building from the floor/chassis up but with a clean sheet of paper design it should be unnecessary.