China Debuts the World’s First Passenger Drone

February 16, 2018 - 3 minutes read

China’s push to become a world leader in artificial intelligence (AI) by 2020 is just one of the country’s lofty goals in technology. This year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) recorded the highest attendance and executive participation by Chinese companies, like AliBaba, Baidu, and Huawei.

And if you were at CES in 2016, you probably heard about Chinese drone-maker Ehang’s promise to create a fully autonomous passenger quadcopter. The drone, the company said, would revolutionize mobility. Two years later, Ehang’s released a video of its first tests in China.

Safety Before Fun

The engineers at Ehang have tested the quadcopter on more than 1,000 test flights with human passengers. These tests included more extreme rounds of testing: a 984-foot vertical climb, a weight test with over 500 pounds, a route over 9.3 miles, and a high-speed test reaching almost 81 mph. Ehang also tested the drone in various weather conditions, like heavy fog, intense heat, nighttime darkness, and a Category 7 typhoon with gale-force winds.

These tests are a testament to the drone development company’s mission of enhancing air mobility safely. Ehang’s founder and CEO Huazhi Hu says, “What we’re doing isn’t an extreme sport, so the safety of each passenger always comes first.”

An Emerging Industry

The company plans to use its drone as an air taxi in urban landscapes, and its first demonstration of this idea would be at this year’s Dubai’s World Government Summit. Ehang also has permission to test the drone in Nevada at an FAA-approved drone test site.

The drone, dubbed the Ehang 184, is all-electric and fully autonomous, meaning the rider doesn’t have to pilot the craft at all. Of course, a human can still take over when necessary. The company anticipates their product as a sort of novelty for rich people. Drone companies in San Francisco are also vying for part of the pie, but Ehang’s testing backs up its own product better.

Relentless Refinement

But in the meantime, Ehang says the successful results from the first series of tests isn’t good enough. They’ll keep improving to the drone, the passenger experience, control features, and the piloting capabilities. The company’s success testing an almost 625 lb payload means their goals and achievements will only grow loftier from here.

Although the company’s mission to become an urban transportation system is grand, they’ve proven themselves to be a strong innovator with their first passenger drone. And we can’t wait to see what they come up with next. In the meantime, we’ll be eagerly awaiting a chance to try out the 184 ourselves!

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