When Chinese drone manufacturer Ehang introduced their Ehang 184 passenger drone at CES in 2015, it certainly got a lot of attention. But when industry watchers pointed out that nobody had actually seen one fly yet – and that regulations at least in this country had a long way to go before they might – the idea seemed too distant in the future to merit much more examination.
A year later, Ehang seemed to have made some progress, signing a deal with Nevada to test the passenger drone here in the US. But rumors that the drone seen in promotional materials at CES hadn’t flown, and without many documented demonstration flights, the idea still seemed remote.
Until now. The Transportation Agency Chief for Dubai announced at the World Government Summit that passenger drones would begin to be used in July, reports the Associated Press. Saying that the Dubai government has already experimented with the drones, which can carry one passenger (a reasonably thin one, weighing up to 220 pounds) and a small suitcase for 30 minutes. The drone can travel at about 60 mph and fly to a destination within about 30 miles.
At this stage, the Ehang 184 as deployed in Dubai would seem to be an entertainment or tourist attraction, part of Dubai’s continuing push to demonstrate that the country boasts the most innovative transportation infrastructure in the world. The passenger drone will take off and land from predetermined points. It is monitored via a control room, and lands immediately if any malfunction or interruption in communications occurs. Pricing for a ride hasn’t yet been established.
But even if the passenger drone isn’t used for regular commuter traffic at this point, the deployment in Dubai is a huge step forward for Ehang and the idea of drones as transportation in general. A successful and safe implementation in a major city may bring the rest of the world closer to accepting the idea; and Ehang closer to implementing their testing program here in the US.