The past decade has been riddled with rumors of flying vehicles and autonomous taxis. Indeed, it seems every year is the last before the culmination of dreams, first wrought in Back to the Future, finally become reality. 2017 is no different.
Flying driverless vehicles might take to the airways this summer. A test run conducted in February by the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has proven successful. Pioneered by Chinese company Ehang, the “Ehang 184” is expected to bring passengers to their destinations automatically, and is queued to begin doing so in the near future.
The battery operated, drone-like vehicle utilizes 8 propellers as its flight mechanism, and will be able to transport someone who weighs up to 220 pounds, including a small carry-on. The battery allows for a half-hour flight, which can travel approximately 31 miles. Once depleted, the battery requires 8 hours to recharge. The vehicle will be able to reach altitudes of 300 meters (about 1000 feet), and travel at speeds of up to 100 kilometers per hour (about 62 miles per hour). Like an Uber, the passenger simply selects his or her destination and the “car” begins the journey, utilizing 4G mobile internet.
Unlike previous attempts to create the flying-car market, the Ehang 184 does not require the passenger to be a learned pilot. The co-founders of Ehang boast that one of the vehicles main differentiators is that you do not need a license to “operate” it. In fact, there is basically no human operation at all. A fail-safe mechanism within the vehicle will find the nearest, safest place to land at even the slightest fault. Further, Ehang claims that a 24/7 flight control center monitors all flights, and can take control of the vehicle in case of an emergency. Related: Saudi Arabia Tries To Reassure Markets After Oil Price Plunge
The vehicle is expected to capture 25 percent of the individual-trip market in Dubai, changing them into self-driving journeys. In fact, the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates has echoed similar sentiments, proclaiming that he wants 25 percent of all passenger journeys to be autonomous by 2030. It could provide an intriguing alternative to carbon-based vehicles, with enough hype to attract market share. Authorities in Dubai have addressed the security aspects of the vehicle and have approved its design and production. Ehang hopes that these assurances will provide peace of mind to the passengers, which, in turn, enhances what public transportation means.
Dubai is quite familiar with inventive technology and autonomous transportation, as it has been home to the world’s longest driverless metro line since 2011. The city has even partnered with Hyperloop One to begin working on a hyperloop line linking the city to Abu Dhabi.
However, it does not seem like a vehicle of this caliber will be available any time soon in the United States. As it stands, the Federal Aviation Administration is requiring all drone fliers, even hobbyists, to register their vehicles on a government website. And this registration process only applies to drones weighing less than 55 pounds. Anything more is restricted from U.S. airways. The Ehang 184, by comparison, weighs 440 pounds and stands at 5 feet tall. While this may seem minute for a car, it is large for a drone.
By Michael McDonald of Oilprice.com
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