World's First Passenger Drone Unveiled

ReutersPublished: January 8, 201612,819 views
Published: January 8, 2016

Now here is a product that every person has almost certainly dreamed of owning; a personal transportation vehicle that evokes images of a future where traffic jams are no longer an issue.

This video, shot from the floor of the 2016 CES convention in Las Vegas centers on a passenger size drone being developed by a Chinese company called Ehang. The vehicle will operate completely autonomously, with no input needed from the passenger to get from point A to point B. Co-founder of the company Derrick Xiong explains that since the passenger will not be in direct control over the flight of the vehicle, it will require no specialized license to operate. This sounds scary at first, but it will be much safer in the end to have computers controlling the navigation of these vehicles. It will utilize a wide variety of sensors and computer components to control all flight operations and navigate to and from destinations completely autonomously. The only interface in the drone will be a singular tablet, which will give the passenger control of take-off and landing locations, and the ability to adjust the climate controls inside the vehicle.

At the time of the video, the vehicle is capable of transporting one person to an altitude of roughly 11500 feet in the air, with a cruising speed of around 63 miles per hour. This coupled with the life of its internal batteries will allow the vehicle to fly around 20 miles non-stop, and stay in the air for around 23 minutes. Not a huge range considering how far some people commute to get to work every morning, but with more efficient batteries this thing could definitely start to get a much longer flight range.

For those of you concerned with the safety of such a new type of transportation, Ehang says that in the event of an emergency, they will be able to remotely control every vehicle in their fleet individually, in order to override faulty commands or to safely land the vehicle in case of technical malfunction. The drone has 8 propellers instead of the typical 4 propeller design to help with redundancy; in a situation where one of the rotors stops functioning the second rotor will spool up faster to compensate and still allow for a controlled descent.

All that said, at a price tag of between two hundred and three hundred thousand dollars, you won’t be seeing too many of these out in the skies anytime soon. Add to that the safety concerns of relying solely on computerized navigation automation to control the vehicle with the passenger being completely helpless in the case of a malfunction, and the general annoyance to the public once there are a bunch of these out there flying around. To be able to generate enough lift to fly a vehicle of this size you have to displace a lot of air (think of a helicopter), and it is very noisy to do so, so the neighbors might not be super happy about one of these taking off and landing twice a day from your backyard.

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