Disruption is the hot concept in transportation these days. Everyone from Elon Musk to Paul Elio think he has invented the next new thing, the idea that will stand everything we know about getting from here to there on its head.
Meet the mother of all disruptors — the EHang 184. What is it? Why, it’s an electric drone that can carry one 220 lb person in air conditioned comfort to a height of 11,500 feet. It has a maximum speed of 63 mph and can stay aloft for 23 minutes at sea level. It also flies itself autonomously. All the passenger does is program in a flight plan. After that, the EHang 184 responds only to 2 commands, “Take off” and “Land.” They are entered by clicking a Microsoft Surface tablet. Once on the ground, it folds so it takes up no more room than an ordinary passenger car.
Once airborne, there are no in-flight controls. In the event of an emergency, the company would use a remote control center to land the electric drone safely says EHang co-founder and chief financial officer Shang Hsiao It should be pointed out that no such remote control center currently exists.
EHang’s marketing officer, Derrick Xiong, told the Phys.org at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show that the electric drone has flown more than 100 times at low altitude in a forested area in Guangzhou, China. Several of those trips were made with an actual (very nervous) person on board.
Xiong adds that one thing that makes quad-copters safer than helicopters is the number of propellers it has. Even if three of the four arms have their propellers disabled, propellers on the remaining arm can ensure a safe if somewhat rough landing by spiraling down to the ground.
Shang Hsaio says the EHang 184 will retail for $200,000 to $300,000 dollars, if and when it is ever imported to the US. Federal regulators are having a hard enough time creating new rules to govern the commercial drones that Amazon.com and FedEX want to use. Adding a human passenger to the mix would complicate things considerably. The company says it has raised over $50,000,000 in capital from investors so far.