You know that wild EHang passenger-carrying drone? The one where a person simply walks in and flies to their location? Well, the latest location that’s been approved for test flights is Quebec, Canada. This brings us one step closer to what we all know is eventually coming: An autonomously piloted, passenger-carrying drone that can safely fly you for short hops.
Whenever we see pictures of that EHang passenger-carrying drone, we can’t help but think of old issues of Popular Mechanics. You know, those old covers that imagined a tantalizing yet impossibly sci-fi future where we’d all be whizzing around on jet packs or something. Well, one of the recurring themes of those cover stories was the prospect of simple, safe personal flight. It seemed there was always a micro-helicopter or something that could transport you from home to office, or between tall buildings within a city. That future is now definitely getting closer. With redundant failsafe mechanisms and proven flight controllers, it’s only a matter of time before passenger drones become part of our urban landscape.
EHang ahead of pack
If you’ve been following any news about passenger drones, you’ll have heard of EHang by now. The Chinese company is currently ahead of the pack with its AAV – Autonomous Aerial Vehicle. Its website offers some details on the design of its model 216 AAV:
Superior to the traditional manned aircraft, the technology design concept of EHang AAV follows three philosophies: full redundancy to ensure security, autonomous pilot and cluster control of the intelligent command and control center. This eco-friendly and intelligent low-altitude passenger-grade autonomous aerial vehicle provides a low-altitude short-and-medium-haul transportation solution for the future intelligent transportation.
Like calling an Uber
EHang’s model relies on automation and a seamless passenger experience. Once these vehicles are fully approved (which will undoubtedly involve a lot of progress on UTM, or Unmanned Traffic Management), a user would summon an EHang drone using an app. The drone would land at the predetermined location nearest to the requested pick-up point. Up to two passengers, weighing no more than 220 Kg collectively, would climb in. And then? A gentle take-off and a flight with a likely range of a few kilometers, though the EHang can travel up to 35 kilometers on a single charge.
Testing in Quebec
Now, word has come that the EHang 216 AAV will be put through its paces in Quebec, Canada. The country’s federal regulatory body, Transport Canada, has issued permission in the form of a Special Flight Operations Certificate. In a news release, the company’s Founder and CEO Huazhi Hu welcomed the development:
We are pleased to see EHang 216 receiving such an important certificate from TCCA, following consecutive flight approvals received from aviation authorities in different countries, including the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the Civil Aviation Authority of Norway and the Civil Aviation Administration of China. It conveys a positive signal from global regulators to establish a supportive and sustainable regulatory environment for the UAM [urban air mobility] industry.
What’s it like?
Recently, EHang flew some sanctioned flights with sightseers in China. The passengers left no doubt: They loved the experience:
Not just people
EHang says the 216 AAV is not just for flying people. It also envisions a cargo version of this aircraft. And that, as well, will be a huge market. Imagine this aircraft being able to carry 220Kg of goods quickly and easily from point to point. In fact, it could carry even more because there would be no need for seats in the cargo version.
We’ll settle, for the moment, with safe and incremental testing. As the EHang news release states, “This achievement is an important foundation for future urban air mobility (UAM) operations in Canada.”
It is, indeed.