Drones have always been a subject of much controversy and Ehang recently caused a stir at the CES by announcing their new fully autonomous, battery-powered passenger drone. It is more of a combination of a personal helicopter and a quadcopter with certain high tech abilities but it may fail to succeed in America because of strict Federal Aviation Administration guidelines unless some dramatic changes take place, towards which the company is working and has managed to get flight testing of its new project approved from the authorities.
Tom Wilczek, an aerospace and defense specialist, simplified it for us laymen by explaining that although, by definition, a drone is an “unmanned aerial vehicle” or a UAV, the Ehang 184 retains part of the definition with its fully autonomous guidance system, making it more of an auto-guided electric helicopter than an actual ‘drone’.
This, however, does not make it any less cool with the computer guided AI system that powers it. The only input the pilot gives is setting the landing and take-off destinations and demand an emergency landing in case of a mishap. The Ehang 184 is made of tough composite materials that are completely safe, like aluminum alloy, carbon fiber, and military strength plastics, same type of materials that are used in spacecraft.
The drone has 8 motors wirelessly controlled via a 4g network. The flight time is about 23 minutes before it runs of juice. Though it is not that impressive, we must bear in mind that the drone is still in development stage, and during those 23 minutes, it can reach a top speed of 100km/h (60 miles/h) and can reach a height of 500 meters. The drone’s batteries take 2-3 hours for a full charge.
The cabin environment is also very nice with stable flight experience with an excellent dynamic balance and wind resistance assures a smooth and steady flight- even in windy condition. However, it can only house one person at the moment so the dream of replacing taxis and other public transport is a bit far-fetched at the moment.
Moreover, there will be certain safety issues as well with unprotected rotor blades posing a threat and unsafe to be used in close proximities to humans during landing and take-off, making it unsuitable for urban environments. Perhaps the biggest hurdle will be convincing the public that the $200,000 to $300,000 investment is worth spending that much money on. However, the project certainly has some attraction to it. It may not pass the FAA laws right now, but we can be sure that it will one day and passenger drones will be a reality. Check out the video of this drone below: