Up until now, drones were defined by, among other characteristics, unmanned flight. But China’s EHang company has just introduced a vehicle at CES 2016 that blurs that definition significantly… and just might demand that we start using the term “quad-copter” more frequently to distinguish from military drones like the Predator. The single-seater EHang 184 is a being touted as the first human-carrying drone.
What’s more, the mechanism requires a great degree of faith from the rider, since he or she will not be able to control it while in flight beyond vocally announcing a destination. It can travel for up to 23 minutes at speeds up to 63 miles per hour. Once the EHang 184 (and how delightfully awkward would it have been to name it the 187?) reaches its ultimate goal, the drone theoretically finds a suitably sized parking space—depending on which city you’re in, that search alone could take 23 minutes.
So what happens if something goes wrong? If the propellers fail, the drone is (supposedly) capable able to make a safe, if rough, landing on only one of them. If the controls fail, a sort of centralized tech support will take over. EHang is sensitive to such concerns. The company’s CEO has had two friends die in air crashes, and he wants this vehicle to stop such things from happening again, as we see in EHang’s video demonstration:
Could we see these in our skies soon? The FAA has had no comment as yet, but a lengthy vetting process can almost certainly be expected. Meanwhile, I’d like to suggest another application: theme park rides. Imagine a roller coaster with no track, in mid air, where you have no idea when the drops are coming, and the ride path could be different each time.
Better work on some autonomous vomit-cleaners too, methinks.
Would you trust this vehicle with your life? What changes would it take, if any? EHang needs to know, and we’d like to hear, in comments below.
h/t: Neill Blomkamp