A flying drone taxi is provisionally cleared for takeoff

Do use cases for this autonomous, passenger-carrying copter actually make sense? The state of Nevada is betting yes.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer
Ehang's manned drone

Ehang, based in China, is developing a manned drone for transportation and delivery.

EHang, a Chinese company based in Guangzhou, has developed a drone capable of carrying the most dangerous game ... er, cargo: MAN! The company is preparing to test the vehicle in Nevada.

The helicopter, which uses a four-rotor design familiar to drone enthusiasts, is electric and can carry a single passenger and a small piece of luggage. Fully loaded, the company says the vehicle is capable of flying for 23 minutes at sea level or up to 63 miles an hour for 10 minutes a higher altitudes. That limits the range of the drone, which is called the Ehang 184, significantly, though it would be suitable for short hops where terrestrial passage is difficult or rescue missions, provided a victim's location is predetermined.

In May the company announced a partnership with Lung Biotechnology to utilize the Ehang for organ transportation.

But Ehang's ambitions are broader. The copter is autonomous--a passenger need only enter a destination on an app in her phone and the vehicle will navigate while avoiding obstacles. It's like Uber ... but higher.

The Nevada test is a result of a partnership between Ehang and the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, a state nonprofit group sponsored by the Governor's Office of Economic Development. Members of the NIAS met reps from the company at CES 2016, where Ehang debuted its manned drone.

There's no official timeline for the tests, though the first manned flights could take place this year. The NIAS will be assisting Ehang in its quest to prove the safety and flight-worthiness of its craft to the FAA.

Editorial standards