Small, remote-controlled drones, usually with cameras mounted to them, have become a popular gadget for tech buffs, but a company from China took the concept of a personal drone to a whole new level at this week’s Consumer Electroncs Show. That company is drone-maker Ehang, which showed off an autonomous drone big and powerful enough to carry a human.
The idea was conceived by Ehang CEO and founder Huazhi Hu following the passing of two close acquaintances in separate flying accidents. Hu was determined to create a drone capable of personal flight that was also very safe. The result was the Ehang 184, in development since 2013.
The 184 is said to be capable of carrying a person weighing up to 220 pounds and the total flying range at present is less than 2.2 miles. The 184 itself weighs about 440 lb, with carbon fiber and other composites used to offset the weight of the batteries as much as possible while maintaining strength. Ehang envisions this early version being used in crowded metropolises to beat the traffic, or perhaps in tourist spots. The maximum altitude is about 1,640 feet and top speed is approximately 60 mph. Charging, meanwhile, is said to range from 2-4 hours.
A person would simply strap themselves in, enter a destination via a 12-inch touchscreen display and then hit a “take-off” button. Everything else is controlled by the drone, including communicating with air traffic control and other aircraft in addition to navigation. The passenger can order the drone to land or hover at a stationary point, however.
Ehang says the 184 has had more than 100 successful test flights, including those carrying humans. Lift and steering is handled by eight electric motors, two each forming a bi-rotor on each of the four arms, and together they deliver an output of just over 140 horsepower. For safety, the 184 is capable of maintaining flight with three of the bi-rotors should one of them fail.
Ehang is targeting a price tag between $200,000 and $300,000 and says sales may even start this year. But don’t hold your breath, at least if you’re in the United States, as there will likely be some tough Federal Aviation Regulations to meet before the 184 can be legally sold.
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