Ehang's Passenger Drone Will Begin Real-World Testing

Remotely piloted human mover cleared for trials in Nevada

Ehang 184 passenger drone China

Ehang 184

The Ehang 184 debuts at CES 2016, capable of carrying 100kg of humans and cargo at 100 kph for 23 minutes (sadly no rides were offered to guests and journalists).Chinese Internet

In the bleak desert east of the ocean and west of the mountains, a robot will open up, take a human into its body cavern, and then lift off into the sky. No more than 23 minutes later, the robot will land, and disgorge its human contents. The Ehang 184 is confusingly termed a "passenger drone," and the remotely piloted people-carrying device is now cleared to test in Nevada.

The drone will test under the supervision of the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, and the Ehang 184 joins the growing tech boom in Nevada. The empty desert holds the hope of hyperloops, drone delivery, autonomous trucking, and drone airports. (Nevada is also famously the home of secret military aircraft testing, and there's a distant possibility that the Ehang could be adopted into military use.)

While the market for, say, self-driving trucks or drone deliveries is pretty self-explanatory, who wants a helicopter that can't fly for even a full half hour? The Guardian writes:

Given that fully autonomous road vehicles are unlikely to be widely available until the middle of the next decade, the time when commuters can simply jump in a flying autonomous taxi drone to get to work appears to be some time off yet. “I personally look forward to the day when drone taxis are part of Nevada’s transportation system,” said [Governor’s Office of Economic Development specialist Tom] Wilczek. Whether consumers will share Wilczek’s enthusiasm remains to be seen.

To work as a sky taxi, Ehang plans for the drone to fly at an elevation of up to 11,500, at speeds of 63 mph. That’s a lot slower than planes or helicopters normally go, but a similar altitude, which will make it a major hurdle for the FAA and other lawmakers figure out how to work drone taxis into the sky. The drone is all electric, so it will likely have to wait to recharge before flying out again. Fine for depositing drunk billionaires at the helipads near their Vegas penthouse suites, but not really a perfect option for anyone else.