A Chinese drone manufacturer claims to have built a self-piloting electric helicopter that can carry one passenger up to 10 miles. The aircraft, announced yesterday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, is purportedly capable of lifting off, flying along a route, detecting obstacles, and then safely landing, all autonomously. Although this type of vehicle isn’t legal now, and isn’t likely to be allowed any time soon, the development of a pilotless personal helicopter marks a huge breakthrough in transportation technology. The hitch is that nobody has actually seen a human being ride in the thing.
Ehang, the drone maker, claims its all-electric quadcopter, the Ehang 184, is the first in the world that is capable of operating autonomously. According to the company’s announcement, the vehicle is like an oversized drone – built just big enough to carry a single passenger. That passenger supposedly has only to plug in their desired destination, sit back, and enjoy the ride while the aircraft takes off and climbs up to 11,000 feet. If there is a problem, Ehang says the human passenger can take over the controls and pilot the chopper to safety.
This sort of vehicle isn’t remotely legal by a long shot, and Ehang didn’t bring a prototype to display during its announcement. The company offered up a video and some still images to back up their claim, but many people just aren’t buying it. As Ben Popper writes for The Verge, “the video the company provided never showed the aircraft in flight with a human inside. The photos it supplied were mostly renders or images of the craft that lacked any other objects for scale.”
Despite the skepticism, Ehang officials believe their autonomous quadcopter could revolutionize personal travel on a global scale. “It’s been a lifetime goal of mine to make flight faster, easier, and more convenient than ever. The 184 provides a viable solution to the many challenges the transportation industry faces in a safe and energy-efficient way,” said Ehang CEO Huazhi Hu. “I truly believe that Ehang will make a global impact across dozens of industries beyond personal travel. The 184 is evocative of a future we’ve always dreamed of and is primed to alter the very fundamentals of the way we get around.”
Via The Verge
Images via Ehang