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February 8, 2018

CEO takes ride in passenger drone to demonstrate that it’s safe

by John_A

The idea of an autonomous flying taxi may sound terrifying to some, but for Chinese outfit EHang, the dream of creating a small aerial vehicle for transporting people at speed across cities is fast becoming a reality.

The simply named “184” first appeared at CES in Vegas just over two years ago, and in recent days the company released a video showing one of its latest manned test flights. And no, it didn’t crash.

Looking something like a giant quadcopter, the 184 lets you climb inside, press a destination on the control panel, and … well, that’s it. You don’t need any pilot training to take a trip in the 184, instead you just let its autonomous technology take care of everything.

To show just how much faith he has in his passenger drone, EHang CEO Huazhi Hu recently climbed inside for a test flight, shown in the video above.

He certainly seems happy enough as the 184 zips along, even if his team back on the ground look a tiny bit anxious. And just like the best consumer drones, the personal transporter looks steady and stable in the air.

The video actually shows two different designs of the 184. The first appears to be the original version, with one seat and eight sets of rotors on four arms (yes, that’s how it got its name). The second is the most recent design is a slightly larger with two seats and 16 sets of rotors on eight arms, though EHang appears to be shying away from calling it the 2168 — a wise move considering how long it takes to say.

The Guangzhou-based company says it has now conducted more than 1,000 test flights, with some consisting of a 984-foot (300-meter) vertical climb while carrying a load of up to 507 pounds (230 kg). Flights have traveled as far as 9.3 miles (15 km), with the aircraft reaching speeds of up to 80.7 mph (130 kph). Its maker boasts that it can even handle force-7 typhoon conditions, though in conditions like that we’ll probably hop in a taxi to get across town.

“Performing manned test flights enables us to demonstrate the safety and stability of our vehicles,” Hu said in a release. “Now that we’ve successfully tested the EHang 184, I’m really excited to see what the future holds for us in terms of air mobility.”

The 184 has plenty of competition, though. Only a few days ago we saw the first test flight of the Airbus-backed Vahana self-piloting air taxi, and Uber is developing its own machine. Joby Aviation and Volocopter also have their own vehicles in the works, and we recently learned about the aptly named “Passenger Drone.”

Personal flying machines certainly seem to capture our imagination, as these wackier designs — a flying car that is basically a car with wings attached, a flying bathtub that is exactly what it says it is, and a hobbyist’s extraordinary 72-rotor machine — appear to prove.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Airbus Vahana pilotless air taxi prototype completes its first test flight
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  • Bell flying taxi shows what commuting above the traffic might one day look like
  • Electric ‘flying taxi’ with ‘numerous propellers’ given boost by Toyota
  • Flying cars and aerial robotics? Udacity’s new offering isn’t your usual course


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