At the end of the sci-fi classic Back to the Future (which has a small shrine in my apartment), Doc Brown arrives in a Delorean rigged to fly with the immortal quip “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.”
Flying cars have been a major feature of future visions for more than a century. When a group of artists were asked to draw the year 2000 personal flying machines featured prominently.
Blade Runner, the Fifth Element, Star Wars and countless other Sci-Fi films have shown us a world where the average person hops into their flying machine and then flits off to work like it’s nothing.
The consensus however, seems to be that flying cars are basically impractical, dangerous and way too expensive. The thing is, maybe we’ve been going about it the wrong way.
Enter the Ehang 184
A Chinese company by the name of Ehang has introduced a passenger drone known as the Ehang 184. It’s an octocopter big enough to carry 210 KG of living passenger and is the closest thing we have to the sci-fi vision of a flying car.
On paper the Ehang solves two of the flying car’s biggest problems:
- Piloting skills
- Traffic Control
It’s an autonomous, computer-controlled personal air vehicle. You don’t have to know anything about flying at all. Just punch in where you want to go and the drone does the rest. In fact, the version that does not require a pilot’s licence doesn’t even have any manual controls!
Ehang has completed over 1000 test flight of the prototypes, even in very inclement weather. In one clip the craft is holding its own in typhoon-grade winds. Ehang has designed the 184 with full redundancy. Every flight system is doubled, which means any failure can be recovered for a safe landing. Should anything go wrong the craft is designed to immediately ground itself in a safe landing spot just as current camera drones do
Landing zones are currently marked with an Ehang logo which tells the craft where it should land. Very similar to Amazon Prime Air.
Seeing is Believing
The Ehang 184 sounds amazing on paper, but of course independent testing and actual implementation are going to finally tell us if this is the solution that kicks off personal air transportation for the masses.
It’s very compelling however. Just have a look at this recent company video detailing their manned flight tests:
In principle we already have this technology at small scale, so the claims of Ehang are not that far fetched.
These air taxis are already slated for use in Dubai and one imagines the city will help them develop an acceptable automated air traffic control system for use in urban areas. I for one am incredibly excited, but we still have to wait and see when it comes to range, price and performance.
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