Two drones powerful enough to carry passengers could usher in the era of autonomous flying taxis.
A year after debuting its passenger drone at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Shanghai-based Ehang released video footage this week showing its Ehang 184 undergoing unmanned test flights.
The Ehang 184 has been designed with an urban setting in mind. The single-passenger vehicle has eight rotors to accomplish vertical take-off and landings in narrows spaces. It can carry a payload of 220 pounds for about 20 miles or 23 minutes of flying time, just enough distance to make it to that meeting downtown. It flies by an app and so the passenger doesn't necessarily have to be a pilot - he just needs to plug in a pickup location and destination, ala Uber.
As you might imagine, overcoming the regulatory hurdles will be quite a challenge in the United States, where commercial drones have received limited approval to take to the skies. Ehang has been working toward that goal, though. Last June, the company struck a deal with the state of Nevada to collaborate on flight testing and training at the state's FAA unmanned aircraft systems test site. But to date, no such testing has taken place, according to Engadget.
It's possible Ehang might need to overcome some internal struggles before it can get its $200,000 passenger drone off to market. Earlier this month, the company laid off about 70 people from its staff of 300, reported the Chinese media site Xtechter. Those interviewed for the story told Xtechter that the layoffs were a scratch on the surface of bigger problems, including quality issues with the firm's smaller UAVs, executive infighting and improper use of funds.
Perhaps to distract from those concerns, reports Engadget, Ehang released the video of the test flights, albeit with vague details. Company co-founder and CMO Derrick Xiong, told Engadget that a few 184s have undergone a total of 200 test flights in China to date, but offered no further information.