There were many assumptions made about where technology would be by 2016. We’re all still waiting for the official roll out of self driving cars, but what about driverless helicopters? The unveiling of a passenger drone took place earlier this year and if things go well we could really see a shift in transportation, yet again.
Developments in drone technology is on the rise and the first human-carrying drone has gotten the green light to start testing this year. Chinese company, EHang makers of EHang 184, the autonomous drone will work with the state of Nevada on product development, flight testing and training. This partnership could lay the foundation for commercialized building of the aerial transportation system.
The EHang 184 is a giant drone that can carry one passenger. There is no pilot in the machine or on the ground. The drone has an automated flight system which takes over once coordinates of the destination have been entered. It takes care of everything from communication with air traffic control, obstacle avoidance and navigation. The drone will always choose the fastest and safest route. Failsafe systems will reportedly take over if in the event of malfunctions and passengers can get the drone to stop and hover in place if needed. If in the future these drones get the okay to fly, EHang’s central software system will pre-plot and coordinate all of the drone flights to avoid any overlapping paths.
Currently drones are largely banned from flying over people not associated with the craft. The FAA is looking at adjusting regulations to clear the way for the commercial uses of drones. Things like delivery services and photography would become more accessible with drone technology. There would be rules in place to alleviate any safety concerns. Drones would have to fly 20 feet above people and have 10 feet worth of buffer space on all sides. This would apply to drones carrying less than 55 pounds. Additional rules would be in place for the more powerful drones carrying larger, heavier objects. Passenger carrying drones would need their own set of rules and regulations entirely.
How 184 Came To Be
The idea behind the 184 came from EHang CEO, Huazhi Hu. He began designing the one-seater electric drone a couple of years ago after two of his pilot friends were killed in plane crashes. Hu decided people needed a form of short-to-medium-distance personal air transportation that didn’t require them to have a pilot’s license. The idea was to take the danger out of low-altitude flight.
When EHang designed the 184 they really went all it. The drone features a carbon fiber/epoxy composite body and an aerial aluminum alloy frame. The eight motors put out 142 hp/106kW to eight propellers, those props are divided into four groups of two and each pair sit on one of the four arms. The arms can fold up when the drone is parked on the ground thus allowing it to take up less space. That’s just the outside, the drone also has a trunk for storing things like a backpack or delivery items. On the inside features include a full interior lighting, air conditioning and a 4G internet connection.
The EHang 184 prototype made its debut at CES at the beginning of this year. At 18 feet long the drone can be folded into a five-foot space. It can take off and land almost vertically, can travel up to 11,480 feet high, go as fast as 62 miles per hour and fly for up to 23 minutes on a full battery. The 184 is fully functional and has a series of demo flights scheduled for this year. The Chinese company claims the drone should be commercially available later this year. What will something like this cost? According to reports, the 184 will cost between $200,000- $300,000. Just to put that into perspective, a small helicopter like the Robinson R44 I costs $355,000 brand new. It has a 350 mile range and can transport 3 passengers at 4000 feet.
The end of this year should yield some interesting results for the latest drone innovation. Nevada was one of the first states to permit testing of driverless cars and EHang is hoping the testing of their taxi drone will be the first step in making the technology available to the masses. It’s an innovative jump in drone technology and VAIO will continue to watch for new developments.