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First passenger-carrying drone is coming from China

Dale Davies |
Chinese drone maker Ehang on CES 2016 unveiled the world's first drone capable of carrying a passenger, which might help achieve the long-standing dream of automated short-to-medium-distance everyday flights.

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The electrically powered Ehang 184, unveiled at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, can carry a single passenger weighing up to 100 kg for a 23-minute flight at sea level at a speed of 100 km per hour. After setting a flight plan, passengers only need to send two commands: "take off" and "land," each controlled by a single click on an 12-inch tablet. There's no need for a runway because the drone takes off and lands vertically.

Due to the 184's fully automated navigation, made possible by Ehang's 24/7, real-time flight command center, passengers have no need for a pilot's license - they simply sit back and let the drone take over. Ehang said the drone has built in reinforcements for all flight systems, so that in the unlikely event that a component does fail, backups can seamlessly take over. There are no regulations that apply to such products because it represents an entirely new category of technology.

If there's damage during a flight, for example, from a bird, the drone will automatically determine whether it will need to land to ensure its passenger's safety. In the event of an emergency, passengers can also choose to halt flight and simply hover in the air with just one click. The drone is able to fly during thunderstorms and other extreme weather conditions, fur Ehang's real-time flight command center can prohibit it from taking off as a precaution.

Ehang 184 features a carbon fiber/epoxy composite body, an aerial aluminum alloy frame, and eight motors putting out 142 hp/106 kW to eight propellers. Charging of its 14.4-kWh battery pack takes four hours in trickle mode or two hours in fast-charge. The drone weighs 440 lb (200 kg), can carry up to 264 lb (120 kg), has a maximum speed of 62 mph (100 km/h) and can reach a maximum altitude of 11,480 ft (3,499 m). Ehang plans to sell the drone later this year at a price of $200,000 to $300,000.

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