Imagine a world where big cities are silent and pedestrianized, no longer clogged up with traffic. Instead, everyone merrily flies from one place to another in their very own personal transport drone. This is the future according to Chinese drone manufacturer EHANG, and their 184 model, ready to fly you anywhere (within reason) at the touch of a button, is the first step toward that vision.
The annual CES conference currently going down in Las Vegas has been the stage for a number of exciting drone revelations, and this offering from EHANG is right up there with the most exciting. Earlier this week we featured the smallest camera-carrying drone on the market - Axis' Vidius - but EHANG's 184 shows that there's plenty going on at the opposite end of the spectrum.
It may look a little like an out of proportion quadcopter, and that's essentially because it is. The 184 is five feet tall, weighs 440 pounds and can hold a single passenger no heavier than 220 pounds. It will be completely autonomous, meaning that passengers need only set their destination in an app before getting on board.
Despite claiming that the drone has reached speeds of up to 60mph in testing, EHANG co-founder Derrick Xiong confirmed that object-avoidance capabilities won't be programmed into the 184. Instead, EHANG will depend upon a fail-safe system that will automatically bring the flight to a stop if it senses that any component of the drone is not working properly.
The Chinese manufacturers also hope to have a 24/7 command centre, a little like a worldwide air traffic control base, monitoring all of their vehicles in real-time.
It looks incredible, but how well received the 184 will be when it eventually comes to market will depend on a number of things. Firstly, how keen will national regulators be to grant licenses for an autonomous vehicle of this size? Second, how safe will people judge them to be, and how willing are they to try it given that there is no manual override in place? It may well be a potential transport method for the future, but EHANG appear to have a long way to go before the roads empty and the skies are full...
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