The Ehang 184, the prototype passenger drone that captured the imagination of CES attendees almost a year ago, hasn’t been seen much since. But in a move that seems calculated to soothe fears that the Ehang 184 seen at CES was merely a stage prop and not a working model, the Ehang co-founder and CMO Derrick Xiong gave tech magazine Engadget an update.
When the company first introduced the Ehang at CES, audiences were stunned – PC Magazine called it “the most audacious drone we’re going to see.” Some of the press, however, remained skeptical: Wired magazine speculated that the drone, which they pointed out would be impossible to fly in the US or UK under current regulations, was perhaps little more than an idea: “Many are suspicious that Ehang’s plan is much further from completion than the three-to-four months predicted by CFO Shang Hsiao in an interview with WIRED US, or if the idea is mainly promotion for the company’s more straightforward, and apparently fairly average, consumer drone,” said the magazine.
Still, the company seemed to be pushing forward with the concept, albeit slowly: Nevada gave Ehang permission to test the 184 (with FAA approval) in June, but so far no tests have been reported.
Now, reveals Engadget, Ehang admits that it has not yet performed a single test flight in the US. In addition, it seems to be suffering from financial problems which don’t bode well for the company’s consumer drone, Ghost: Ehang has laid off about 70 employees (out of about 300) and seems to be dealing with fiscal problems resulting in missed payments to suppliers, among other financial woes.
However, Xiong is reassuring the public that the Ehang 184 has performed over 200 test flights in China, and that the drone has proved its stability and accuracy. The company continues to develop the drone: improving the propeller, motor, motor driver, and battery.
Now the company is introducing their flight command center, a Guangzhou building where Ehang will monitor the drones in real time. The dashboard – which Ehang says is still being debugged – is designed to monitor numerous factors including speed, altitude, location, and drone camera feed and video feed of the passenger.
Despite the update, the team at Engadget remained unconvinced: “As impressive as it sounds, many questions remain. For one, it doesn’t appear that the flight command center is fully operational just yet… In a recent interview with Chinese news portal Huanqiu, Xiong revealed that he had personally controlled a Ghost — Ehang’s consumer line of drones — that was 10 km away via the command center, which suggests he has yet to do the same with a 184.”
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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