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The World’s First Human-Ready Drone Preparing for Takeoff

June 9, 2016, 4:37 PM UTC
APTOPIX Gadget Show EHang
The EHang 184 autonomous aerial vehicle is unveiled at the EHang booth at CES International, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, in Las Vegas. The drone is large enough to fit a human passenger. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Photograph John Locher — AP

The world’s first human-carrying drone is set to take off.

EHang, the China-based company that has built a drone that a single person can actually fly in, will be allowed to fly around Nevada starting this year, the company announced in a statement. The agreement to fly over Nevada’s state-owned test site was signed between the company, the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS), and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

The Guardian earlier reported on the testing.

The EHang 184 drone was unveiled at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in January. The drone is capable of carrying a single human weighing up to 220 pounds for a period of 23 minutes before it needs to be recharged. According to EHang, the aerial vehicle will require between two hours and four hours to recharge before it can fly again. The drone can reach a maximum speed of 62 miles per hour and can soar to about 1,500 feet in the air.

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Drones have become big business in the technology industry, and are forecast to grow their popularity over time. The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) believes that the U.S. drone market’s revenue could exceed $1 billion by 2018 and it anticipates more than 1 million drones flying around at any given time within the next 20 years.

However, those drones are small devices made by companies like DJI and 3DRobotics that carry cameras and allow users to get different perspectives on a given area; they don’t carry humans.

That’s precisely what makes the EHang 184 so compelling. Unlike all other drones that leave the human firmly on the ground, EHang wants them in the cockpit. Once there, users need only to tell the drone their desired destination and sit back and relax while the aerial vehicles takes flight. It’s similar to the oncoming onslaught of self-driving cars, but in the air.

Of course, safety is paramount with these drones, which has prompted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to take a decidedly strong approach towards those who are even flying unmanned aerial vehicles and require them to register as hobbyists with the government agency.

“Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiasts are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in December.

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Putting a human in the cockpit adds a new level of safety concerns, which is why EHang must engage in testing before it can even come close to selling its aircraft to customers. The testing will be facilitated by the Nevada Governor’s office and NIAS, which will help EHang get the regulatory approvals required for it to start selling its vehicle.

“Through this teaming agreement, NIAS will serve as the one-stop shop for EHang as they work through the Certificate of Airworthiness process to achieve safe and reliable flight,” Dr. Chris Walaach, director of operations for the Nevada Institute of Autonomous Systems, said in a statement.

Testing on the EHang 184 will begin this year and the parties say they will work over the next several months to meet the government’s regulations. They didn’t say exactly when the EHang 184 might launch, but Tom Wilczek, a specialist on Aerospace and Defense who works at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, is looking forward to that day.

“I personally look forward to the day when drone taxis are part of Nevada’s transportation system,” he said in a statement.