Any drone company with Urban Air Mobility (UAM) ambitions needs connectivity. Which is why the news of a partnership between EHang, the Chinese manufacturer behind the 184 passenger drone, and telecoms giant Vodafone, should come as no surprise.
The former has an aerial system that’s completed manned test flights in China, Amsterdam, Doha, and Vienna. The latter has 600 million customers globally and an enormous connectivity ecosystem. This month the pair announced plans to collaborate on building an urban air mobility (UAM) network in Germany before targeting operatons across the rest of Europe.
Under the agreement, Vodafone will become EHang’s exclusive partner to provide connectivity to all EHang AAVs operating in Europe by equipping them with Vodafone SIM cards. EHang will become Vodafone’s exclusive UAM partner.
A joint statement explains that Vodafone’s connectivity will be the foundation for both passenger drones and logistics fleets (which EHang has been working on in partnership with DHL in China). The statement says that in both cases, mobile connectivity will ensure the aerial vehicles can communicate with both the command-and-control centers that regulate their operations and each other.
“Every AAV requires digital connectivity to ensure the coordination of air traffic, so fast networks like 5G are critical to enabling sustainable pilotless air travel and freight delivery systems,” said EHang Founder, Chairman, and CEO Hu Huazhi.
“5G is also a key infrastructure component for the commercial deployment of AAVs, since it enables take-offs and landings that are precisely controlled within centimeters.”
Perhaps they are getting ahead of themselves, but EHang and Vodafone have also confirmed that following test flights they will “together on mobility platform services that provide digital and streaming content to AAV passengers while in-vehicle” – as well as technology to simplify the payment process and support identity verification.
Vodafone CEO Hannes Ametsreiter said: “Autonomous air taxis will enable increased mobility options for all of us in the future. They will complement existing modes of transportation but allow us to fly above traffic jams if needed.”
Following on from test flights of the 184 drone, it now seems as though the focus is on EHang’s two-seater 216 passenger model, which provides pilotless air transportation services and arguably represents a more marketable solution.