The World’s First Manned Drone: Ehang 184
Chinese Manufacturer Ehang pulled it off: the world’s first Manned Aerial Vehicle. Named Ehang 184, this flying gadget is ready to blow your mind.
If you though the hoverboard of Back To The Future II was an over-the-top tech gadget that would never go into production then the year 2015 proved you wrong: the hoverboard is real, and it seems only a matter of time before going by hoverboard will become the number one alternative to going by bike or using public transport.
Flying – This Time For Real
Pushing their previous production in Ummanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) to the next level, the Chinese manufacturer of Ehang has presented a propeller-driven drone that for the first time ever is capable of taking a man up into high air. With a capacity to carry one human passenger the drone going by the simple name of Ehang 184 was first presented to public at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on January 6, 2016.
Driven by an electric motor and soaring through the air on 4 propellors the Ehang 184 brings about enough power to lift up to 100kg for a total hovering time of 23 minutes.
While batteries take about 2-4 hours to be fully charged the drone is said to reach an average travel velocity of an impressive 100 kilometers per hour. Weighing in relatively modest at about 200kg the Ehang 184 is capable of reaching a maximum flying height of 500 meters with normal wind conditions, and that a fast pace: the average time it takes the drone to rise to its crusing altitude is less than 3 minutes.
A Fully Autonomous Aerial Vehicle (AAV)?
As impressive as these first specs are, the Ehang 184 is by no means a fully developed alternative to the helicopter. It is worth mentioning that the current prototype of the drone does not come with any means to actually steer the AAV.
Similar to an unmanned micro drone Ehang’s passenger carrying drone is steered from the outside: the desired route is entered via touchscreen into the onboard tablet running Microsoft Surface which will then send the drone up into the air.
In case you are wondering how the drone is to be mastered in a case of emergency Ehang’s co-founder and Chief Financial Officer Shang Hsiaois has mentioned the market-ready drone will feature a remote control panel that will enable to land the vehicle safely and from the ground.
In any case, Hsiaosis stressed that the drone is able to land safely even if three of the four propellors fail.
The One Downside Of The Ehang 184
Despite its overall novelty factor the current Ehang 184 is by no means ready for market entry. Not only will any passenger carrying drone operate in a legal grey zone as most jurisdictions worldwide prohibit drones to get closer to buildings for less than 100 meters, the limiteed uptime of 23 minutes will not allow traveling farther than about 25 km away. That is, if one was to calculate with an effective flying time of 20 minutes at an average flying speed of 75 km/h.
After All Still A Prototype
Also, it is understandable that the current prototype of the Ehang 184 comes without any means to steer the vehicle as it is just that: a prototype. Having a human passenger soaring around in high air with such limited means of protection – unlike the Ehang even the smallest helicopter would have enough space for a lifesaving parachute – is a vulnerable invention that demands to tread carefully. And that in regard to passenger safety as well as the possible misuse of the vehicle for smuggling, trespassing all the way up to terrorist attacks.
If there was one thing that the Ehang 184 proved then that human carrying drones are possible. Be it that they still function in passive-mode only with no way of altering a set route, and even be it that their entry price is set a a generous $200.000 to $250.000 US Dollar, soaring around hundreds of meters above ground in a vehicle that no longer is an over-sized helicopter has become reality.
WHat is needed now is patience. Patience to see of passenger carrying drones will prove themselves as an effective means of transportation at all – or if drones are rpone to cause nothing but aerial havoc due to unforeseeable navigation, unreliability and affinity to crashes. Patience to se if prices can be lowered to a level that makes drones a reasonable alternative to cars and trains.
Yet as we have seen it with the cell phone that started out brick-sized and now combines videos and harddisk drives in the literal size of a nutshell, it might just be patience that will turn drone flying into an every day event.
Patience shall show what the future brings. And who knows – it must just be a flying DeLorean running on egg shells and banana peels.