A Chinese drone maker just unveiled an unmanned aerial vehicle so futuristic that it makes George Jetson's spacecraft look outdated. It's an autonomous human-sized drone that promises to ferry passengers through the air without asking them to ever touch the controls.
The Chinese company EHang unveiled the flying machine, known as the EHang 184, at the Consumer Electronics in Las Vegas Wednesday. EHang claims the drone can lift and transport humans weighing 220 pounds for 23 minutes on a single battery charge. It navigates via EHang's app, which allows users to input their destination into a 12-inch touchscreen before takeoff.
Compare that to the car from the classic TV show "The Jetsons," which required the driver to steer with a joystick.
The current plan is to release a commercial drone by the end of 2016. Given the murky legal situation surrounding UAVs, though, it's not clear if that will be possible. A spokesperson for the company told Motherboard EHang is “committed to collaborating with the FAA and other regulatory agencies in countries all over the world.”
The EHang 184 is expected to be priced at $200,000 to $300,000 when it becomes a consumer product.
The drone has been in development for three years, including a year of autonomous flight testing in China. Safety measures include an option that automatically brings the drone down to earth if something goes wrong or it's damaged, the company said.
“It's been a lifetime goal of mine to make flight travel faster, easier and more convenient than ever,” EHang CEO Huazhi Hu said in a statement. “I truly believe that EHang will make a global impact across dozens of industries beyond personal travel.”
It just has to get off the ground first.