Posted By Simon Montford on June 9, 2016
One of the coolest things to come out of CES in Vegas this year was a life-size drone that's capable of flying passengers autonomously in the air for up to 20 minutes. The self-driving aerial vehicle is called the Ehang 184, and the company responsible for creating it has just been granted clearance for takeoff in order to test it over the skies of Nevada.
It is hoped that the Ehang 184 will be granted regulatory approval by the governor's office of economic development (GOED). The tests will be carried out in partnership with the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS).
If the Ehang 184 is proven to be safe to fly it could be one of the first autonomous aerial vehicles to gain the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) seal of approval, which would almost certainly provide the fledgling autonomous aerial transportation industry with a much needed fillip.
Ehang is a reasonably well known manufacturer of semiprofessional drones and cameras that's based in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, but if successful the company could, like Google is doing with self driving cars, become a market leader in a nascent but rapidly growing market sector.
The Ehang 184 comes with an app that enables the passenger to simply select a destination and it will fly itself without the need for human assistance at speeds of up to 63 mph at a height of up to almost 12,000 feet. According to the company's founder, when it goes into production it will be perfectly safe based on the fact that even if one or two of the rotors fail, the aircraft will continue to operate and will land itself safely.
One major concern I had when this incredible flying machine was first announced at CES back in January, was battery life. Twenty minutes of flight time is pretty limited, so what happens when the battery goes flat during flight? The thought of plummeting to earth takes the term "range anxiety" to a whole new level! I can't tell you the amount of times I've headed out for the day with a partially charged smartphone, so who's to say the same thing won't happen when I get my very own flying car?
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