Ehang flying taxi shown lifting passengers into the air for the first time
Ehang has been a little coy about its taxi drone since bringing a grounded prototype to CES in 2016. While we have been treated to footage of competing aircraft in action, like the Volocopter and Passenger Drone, the folks behind the Chinese company have mostly kept their progress under wraps. Today we've gotten our best look yet at the Ehang 184, with footage for the first time showing it carrying out test flights with people onboard.
The autonomous air taxi scene is becoming pretty crowded. Along with the examples mentioned above, Airbus, Intel, Boeing and Bell Helicopter are also pumping money into these futuristic vehicles. The designs vary, but all are essentially built to do the same thing, carry people autonomously across city environments as a way of overcoming pollution, congestion and the other inconveniences that come with traveling mostly along the ground.
Crafted from a carbon fiber and epoxy composite with an aluminum alloy frame, the Ehang 184's top speed is listed as 130 km/h (80 mph). Ehang says its aircraft can fly at cruising speed for 25 minutes at a time following a one-hour recharge of its electric motors, and that it can withstand force seven typhoon winds.
Until now, we've had to take the company's word for it when it comes to these capabilities, but a newly released video shows them being put through their paces. In it we can see a host of passengers climb into the aircraft, including Ehang CEO Huazhi Hu, and Chinese government officials such as deputy mayor of Guangzhou, Wang Dong.
The aircraft is shown working in some testing conditions, including heavy fog and what is claimed to be a force seven typhoon. It can also be seen flying at night, climbing to an altitude of 300 m (1,000 ft) and completing a long-range flight of 8.8 km (5.5 mi). The company does say it has covered a distance of 15 km (9.3 mi) previously, in separate testing.
"Performing manned test flights enables us to demonstrate the safety and stability of our vehicles," Hu said. "What we're doing isn't an extreme sport, so the safety of each passenger always comes first. 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."
So how far away are we from seeing these things deployed in the real-world? Ehang already has an agreement with the State of Nevada to carry out testing there, and another with Dubai's transport authority to do the same. But testing and proving the safety of the aircraft is one thing, having the relevant authorities unshackle them for good will be another.
"This is a step-by-step process," said Hu. "And at Ehang, we have our own road map. When it comes to the development and application of any transformative technology, 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."
Check out the Ehang 184 in action in the video below.