They have long been the staple of science fiction films and space opera novels; but the future just came a little bit closer with the development of the EHang 184, single-passenger autonomous aerial vehicle. Or put another way, driverless air taxi! The automotive industry is already conducting trials regarding the viability of driverless cars, so why should the sky be off limits? And like most cutting edge ideas these days, Dubai may soon be leading the way.

The Chinese built EHang 184 is a small vertical take off and landing vehicle driven by eight electric motors with a range of 31 miles and an operational speed of 60mph. The passenger would set the destination and the whole procedure would be watched for safety reasons by remote human controllers but essentially you are in an automated and pilotless air taxi.

The prototype for the EHang was unveiled to the public just over a year ago and since then the company has been working with Nevada’s Institute for Autonomous Systems to stringently test every aspect of the machine. From the early part of this year, focus has centered on the “command center” from where a crew can track and monitor every passenger in flight.

Ehang are not the only company working on such a concept but they are currently the front-runners of such technology though there are still some aspects to iron out according to experts. Ken Goodrich, a senior research engineer at NASA said,

“The technology is viable,” but he has reservations about takeoffs and landings. “I’d be concerned about the ground hazard,” he said, noting that “the surrounding area needs to be clear before the aircraft powers up and the rotors, which at that point would be at ground level, begin turning.”

But on a more promising note Goodrich added, “The times really are changing in terms of reaction toward how practical these small aerial vehicles can be, with the capabilities of autonomous cars, it’s becoming more accepted that the flight automation problem can be solved.”

For years both fantastical fiction and science fact promised us jet packs, it now seems that technology is about to deliver something a whole lot better.



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