Climb into a giant, human-sized autonomous drone, type in the address for your destination, and sit back and relax while the machine flies you there. This may sound like a device from the Jetsons, but Chinese drone company EHang is trying to make it a reality.
The company unveiled what it says is the world’s first electric, personal "Autonomous Aerial Vehicle" at CES in Las Vegas on Wednesday. It claims the model, called the EHang 184, can fly human passengers up to 220 pounds for a duration of up to 23 minutes on a single charge. Users simply input an address into EHang’s app and the pod will carry them there automatically.
The device sounds insane, and illegal, but a representative from EHang told Motherboard by email the company is “committed to collaborating with the FAA and other regulatory agencies in countries all over the world." Considering the FAA's abundance of caution when it comes to drones, we'll believe it when we see it. It plans to get a commercial model on the market in 2016, which will retail for between $200,000 and $300,000.
Image: Kari Paul/Motherboard
EHang says it has a variety of safety measures in place for flight, including a “Fail-Safe System” that will automatically ground the vehicle should damage occur during flight, and a human pilot command center tasked with monitoring flights 24/7 and taking over in case of emergency.
The idea is so out-there, it has to be seen to be believed: EHang showed a video of the device successfully taking off the ground in China, but was unable to demo it at CES itself. It claims it has been developing the 184 for the past three years with a fully functional model flying in China for the past year. EHang believes the device will have “dramatic effects” on the world’s transportation, particularly in cities with congested traffic.
“It’s been a lifetime goal of mine to make flight faster, easier and more convenient than ever,” EHang CEO Huazhi Hu said in a statement. “I truly believe that EHang will make a global impact across dozens of industries beyond personal travel.”
With ongoing struggles with even small UAVs and the FAA, a model for sale in the US in the next few months seems like a tall order. It may be awhile before the futuristic 184 actually takes off.