There are a lot of new technologies being shown in CES (Consumer Electronic Show) 2016. Apart from autonomous cars, autonomous drones are going to be a way of transportation in the future. A few companies have already showcased their idea of what a drone supposed to be, starting from the drones which able to launch from the back of a truck to a drone which is designed to carry at least one passenger or packages. Ehang is one of the companies which do so.
Ehang is a Chinese technology company which specialised in developing drones. In the CES, the company announced its latest pilotless drone named Ehang 184. It is an all-electric vehicle which is able to carry a single passenger up to 10 miles or about 23 minutes of flight. The passenger does not need to do anything apart from input their destination and enjoy the scenery.
Ehang 184 is able to take off, fly a route, sense obstacles and land. All these are done autonomously. In case of emergency, a human pilot should be able to remotely take over the vehicle.
Ehang 184 is not approved to fly in America’s sky by FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and as such the live demo of the vehicle could not be done during CES 2016. However, in the video that is provided by the company, it is shown that it has successfully fly in Chinese’s sky even though there is no proof that there is a human present during the flight.
There are still challenges for Ehang 184. One of them is how to make a human pilot to be able to take over the drone remotely in case if there is an emergency to land it safely or how does it communicate with other aircraft and lastly as it is only be able to fly about 23 minutes at sea level, therefore what is the maximum height which the drone will be able to function effectively.
According to Sanjiv Singh, Ehang 184 is facing additional challenges as it is proposing smaller and more delicate craft. He is a professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute who has also working on flying car project for DARPA and currently heads a startup. He also mentioned that it is possible to design an autonomous drone which is able to avoid obstacle such as tree branches or power cables and navigate to land by itself. Ehang 184 should be designed to be able to handle these entire obstacles.
Amazon, on the other hand, has proposed different layers in the sky for different drone activity. Imagine one layer in the sky dedicated only for drones which carries packages while another layer in the sky dedicated for drones which carries passengers. That would be interesting. Google is also reported to be working on a smaller and cheaper version of ADS-B technology which allows autonomous aircraft to communicate with each other on their position. It is the same technology that is used for commercial jetliners.
Ehang promises to deliver a complete working unit of the drone sometime by this year. However, the timeline for it to be approved by FAA might take longer than that.