A Chinese company has unveiled the world’s first commercially available passenger drone at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The Ehang 184, created by Guangzhou-based company Ehang, essentially looks like a larger version of a quadcopter drone – except with a small cockpit in the middle capable of carrying a single passenger.
The all-electric drone has four arms, eight propellers, eight motors and two sets of sensors — as well as a redundancy to ensure safety in bad weather (or perhaps in case one set of sensors fails).
Its website says that although the device is thunderstorm-proof, the command center will prohibit the vehicle from takeoff during extreme weather conditions. The way it works, according to EHang, is that the passenger punches their destination into a mobile app. Then, they have only two possible commands: “take off” and “land.”
EHang claims the 184 AAV, which is expected to be available in 2016 at a cost of between $200,000 and $300,000, has full redundancy, meaning that if one set of its multiple power systems is behaving badly, another kicks in, “ensuring the safety of both the passenger and the vehicle.” It is also said to have a built-in fail-safe system that immediately lands the drone if components malfunction or disconnect.
Ehang says the 184, which is all electric, can carry a single passenger up to 10 miles or roughly 23 minutes of flight. The person in the cockpit doesn’t do any piloting, they just input their destination and enjoy the ride. The aircraft claims to be able to autonomously take off, fly a route, sense obstacles, and land. And if anything goes wrong, a human pilot is supposed to step in and take over the controls from a remote command station.
“It’s been a lifetime goal of mine to make flight faster, easier, and more convenient than ever. The 184 provides a viable solution to the many challenges the transportation industry faces in a safe and energy-efficient way,” said Ehang CEO Huazhi Hu. “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.”
In the meantime, the company has met with government officials in New Zealand, in Los Angeles, California and China. New Zealand is interested in experimental tests, Hsiao said, and the Chinese government supports it but needs to undergo the application process.
So far, the company has successfully completed more than 100 flights with an actual live person on board.