Drones

Ehang 184 taxi drone to undergo flight testing in the US

Ehang 184 taxi drone to underg...
Ehang's 184 drone, shown here at CES earlier this year, will be flight tested in Nevada
Ehang's 184 drone, shown here at CES earlier this year, will be flight tested in Nevada
View 5 Images
The idea of the autonomous taxi drone is that passengers hop in, enter their destination on a 12-inch touchscreen and simply hit the take-off button
1/5
The idea of the autonomous taxi drone is that passengers hop in, enter their destination on a 12-inch touchscreen and simply hit the take-off button
Ehang's 184 drone at CES earlier this year
2/5
Ehang's 184 drone at CES earlier this year
The aim thropugh the testing program is to gain the Ehang 184 a Certificate of Airworthiness
3/5
The aim thropugh the testing program is to gain the Ehang 184 a Certificate of Airworthiness
Ehang's 184 drone, shown here at CES earlier this year, will be flight tested in Nevada
4/5
Ehang's 184 drone, shown here at CES earlier this year, will be flight tested in Nevada
The single-seater electric drone is designed to offer an aerial transport option for people moving short-to-medium distances
5/5
The single-seater electric drone is designed to offer an aerial transport option for people moving short-to-medium distances

The idea of personalized air travel aboard autonomous flying taxis sounds like a pretty fanciful transport concept, but it started to get some serious traction when Ehang's 184 drone landed at CES earlier this year. Many questions remain over how the human-carrying aircraft would function in the real world, but at least some of these may soon be answered with the company winning governmental approval to test the vehicle in Nevada airspace.

The single-seater electric drone is designed to offer an aerial transport option for people traveling short-to-medium distances. The idea is that passengers hop in, enter their destination on a 12-inch touchscreen and hit the take-off button. The autonomous flight systems handle the rest, including avoiding obstacles, communicating with air traffic control systems and navigating the flight path.

This all sounds pretty exciting, but the trouble is the drone on show at CES was just a prototype and, one short clip of it hovering aside, Ehang has never demonstrated its purported capabilities. It has, however, done enough to impress biotech firm Lung Biotechnology, which has teamed up with the Chinese drone-maker to adapt the vehicle for future organ deliveries. And now the US state of Nevada is looking to get onboard as well.

Both the Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED) and the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS) have signed an agreement with Ehang to begin testing the aircraft. The program will take place at Nevada's FAA-approved test site, one of six such drone-testing locations across the US. There's no mention of whether this testing will cover the vehicle's capacity to carry humans, but the stated intention is to gain the Ehang 184 a Certificate of Airworthiness, an FAA document that gives it authority to fly.

The idea of the autonomous taxi drone is that passengers hop in, enter their destination on a 12-inch touchscreen and simply hit the take-off button
The idea of the autonomous taxi drone is that passengers hop in, enter their destination on a 12-inch touchscreen and simply hit the take-off button

"The State of Nevada, through NIAS, will help guide EHang through the FAA regulatory process with the ultimate goal of achieving safe flight," says Tom Wilczek, GOED's Aerospace and Defense Industry Specialist. "EHang's selection of Nevada to test its people-carrying drone marks a thrilling addition to the innovative companies testing throughout our state to advance the commercial drone industry. I personally look forward to the day when drone taxis are part of Nevada's transportation system."

The US government is still in the process of drawing up new regulations for commercial drone flight, so even if the testing is a runaway success it's going to be a while before you can delete the Uber app on your phone and hail an Ehang 184 instead. But still, there was a healthy air of scepticism around the transport concept when it emerged, and though winning approval to test it out doesn't put that to bed entirely, it is a step in a pretty promising direction.

Source: Ehang

15 comments
Nik
It looks like a very effective people shredder. The blades need to be ducted.
JohnRead
Roll on the Jetsons! We need loads more R&D for drives, infrastructure and governance methods.
habakak
Nik, like existing helicopters you mean? Yeah, not an issue. However, even though electrical autonomous flying machines have a useful place and will happen, it will never be used for mainstream commuting in any area but an extremely thinly populated area. Imagine landing 1000 of these per minute for 3 hours long during the rush hour commute in Manhattan in the morning and evening. Yeah, not going to happen. Even in a small city like Cincinnati it won't happen. The only perfect door-to-door transportation model is the automobile. It just needs to be autonomous and electric (and thus cleaner, safer and cheaper). All other forms of transportation has much more limited use for 95% of peoples needs to be transported. Everybody using buses, trains, plains and ships still need something to get to the terminal (typically a car and bikes under good conditions with limited options - not when it snows or rains, not when distances are exceeding 2 miles or includes steep hills or when any luggage of significance needs to be carried, not safe under current traffic conditions, most older people can't or wont' use it, etc.). Bicycles are great but not really an effective form of transportation in 90% of the world. It's better when the only other option is to walk, specifically in 3rd world countries. But yeah, even autonomous electric flying appliances ain't gonna 'fly' so to speak when it comes to mainstream commuting.
MishaCarr
I agree Nik. I also think it needs to carry at least two people to be safe.
guzmanchinky
That's very cool, but like Nik said...
mediabeing
I agree with Nik. Specifically ducted or not, this could be a new green area for bamboo. Spherical/cuboical wicker cages to protect blades and non-blades.
bobcat4424
Helicopters, and especially two-engine helicopters are the most dangerous aircraft that have ever made their way into public acceptance. Flying them demands full concentration, constant management of the controls, and an extreme awareness of the environment. But autonomous drones or highly-computerized flight control systems with some of the same features could easily make helicopters safe enough to be considered for a larger role in transportation.
DavidRoxborough
Indeed! I agree with Nik. Does the State of Nevada have ulterior motives?
MBadgero
Nik is right. habakak, helicopter blades are usually above head-height. Lower the landing gear a bit and this could double as a lawnmower.
Wolf0579
Make one for me, but with pilot's controls! I would luuuurrrrvv to fly one!