While all the talk at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show 2016 in Las Vegas has been about connected cars and electric vehicles, Chinese company eHang is aiming a little higher. They think in the future everyone will zip around the sky in self-flying drones. What’s more, they’ve actually built one.
The eHang 184 looks just like a regular drone with a carbon-fibre body and four struts sticking out of it, each with two large propellers top and bottom. The main difference however is that it is gigantic: the UAV is almost two metres high, each propeller is one-and-half metres long, and it weighs 200 kilograms. It’s also fitted with a cabin large enough to carry a single passenger.
The eHang 184 is designed to fly up to speeds of 100km/h and reach 500 metres in the air, so it could easily rise above any of the neon buildings here on the Las Vegas Strip including its tallest attraction, the 350 metre high Stratosphere Tower. However, the UAV only has a flight time of 23 minutes, so eHang recommends using it for short journeys, such as the commute to work.
One of the things that distinguishes the eHang 184 from a conventional helicopter is that you don’t need a pilot’s license to operate it (yet). Instead, you just tap on a tablet built into the cockpit to select where you want to go from a map and off the mega-drone goes, flying autonomously.
The eHang 184 will cost around $200,000, which is cheaper than a private jet or helicopter, but this is obviously going to rule out anyone but the richest playboys from owning one. Instead eHang told us they envision the 184’s being used as a taxi service to ferry urban commuters in between skyscrapers – like a airborne Uber.
However, this is all a flight of fantasy. While eHang’s employees on the CES showfloor could tell us with certainty that the Hang 184 is the future of personal transport, they were very fuzzy on details – we had to refer to the company’s website for exact specs. They also couldn’t show us a practical demonstration of the drone flies because the exhibit was indoors.
When pressed, an eHang spokesperson said the expected the 184 to launch by the end of 2016 or possibly next year. They also said eHang were in talks with aviation officials, both in China and New Zealand (a country that has admittedly already cleared personal jetpacks for take-off), but nothing is agreed and they have not spoke to US or British authorities at all.
It’s more likely the 184 is intended to promote the launch of eHang’s new Ghost 2.0 quadrocopter – which is regular-size and flown on the ground by remote control. But this is no different to how Future Faraday’s electric Batmobile is a just a concept to showcase their modular design for building more conventional e-cars. Hopefully some version of the eHang 184 will take off at some point.