It grabbed the spotlight at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January when its China-based manufacturer displayed it, and now the world’s first self-flying passenger-carrying drone – the E-Hang 184 – will return to Nevada for further development and testing.
EHang Inc, the maker of the all-electric drone, is partnering with the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS) and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) to develop test criteria to help Ehang prove aircraft worthiness to the US Federal Aviation Administration. The announcement was made on May 26.
The founder and chief executive of Ehang, Huazhi Hu, said the move would lay the foundation for the 184’s commercialization and spark the autonomous aerial transportation industry. The company based in the Guangzhou province of southern China, makes camera and hobbyist drones.
The drone can fly itself by having a passenger enter a destination into the drone system’s accompanying smartphone app. It uses multiple independent flight control systems to automatically navigate to a desired location. Real-time data is collected from sensors throughout the flight to automatically plot the fastest and safest route.
The EHang 184 passenger-carrying drone is displayed during the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. CFP
The 184 can fly at altitudes up to 11,500 feet and at speeds of up to 65 miles per hour for up to 23 minutes.
It has eight propellers on four arms, and takes off and lands vertically, eliminating the need for a runway.
“It caught everybody’s attention,” Mark Barker, the NIAS’s business development director, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal about the drone when it was at the electronics show.
“We will help them submit necessary test results and reports to the FAA and all that kind of stuff,” Barker told the newspaper. “It’s a big deal for EHang, and it’s a big deal for NIAS and the state of Nevada because we will be helping them to test and validate their system.”
EHang expects to begin testing in Nevada later this year. The company will move a small crew to the state for the testing.
“We have several ranges where we can do it, but we haven’t firmed that up yet,” Barker said, adding that the institute will meet with EHang officials in about a month to arrange details. “(EHang will) need a combination of restricted and unrestricted airspace, so we are trying to figure out what would be the best place to do that at.”
Nevada has been positioning itself as a test site for advanced transport solutions, being one of the first states in the US to permit the testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads.
This partnership will advance the state’s commercial drone industry, Tom Wilczek, an aerospace and defense industry specialist with GOED, said in the statement. “I personally look forward to the day when drone taxis are part of Nevada’s transportation system,” he said.