EHang Plans to Sell Drone Airplanes
The term “drone airplane” seems like an oxymoron at first. We know what airplanes are. They need a pilot. We know what drones are. They don’t need a pilot. Also referred to as “unmanned aerial vehicles” (UAVs), drones or UAVs have been long used for military applications, and are now becoming more accessible to consumers as a result of advances in technology. Drones aren’t just being adopted by hobbyists with deep pockets, but they’re also being used for many commercial applications as well, like delivery. In all of these cases, the drone remains unmanned and is controlled remotely. So what if we created a drone big enough to carry humans that was still controlled remotely? Would this vehicle be still described as a drone? What if it looked just like a drone but was 20X larger? We might refer to this hybrid aircraft as a “drone airplane”, and one company looking to apply drone technology to human transportation is Ehang.
Founded in 2014, Chinese startup Ehang has taken in $52 million in funding so far from investors that include Microsoft. While the company refers to itself as a “global leading unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology company”, the two products they are developing today are really thinking “outside the box” when it comes to commercial applications for drones. Firstly, the Ehang 184 is being touted as the world’s first autonomous aerial vehicle:
At a price point of between $200,000 and $300,000, this 440 pound electric aircraft uses eight propellers to carry a 220 pound payload up to 10 miles at a speed of up to 60 miles per hour. This five-foot tall drone airplane is fully autonomous, so all you need to do is enter in your destination in the smartphone app and off you go. EHang plans to sell the aircraft with support from a full control and command center that monitors variables like weather conditions before allowing a flight plan to be executed. The Company plans to launch the EHang 184 sometime this year.
With all the regulatory problems being faced by drones in the States, China may be a better market in which to test the concept of a drone airplane. Perhaps the most obvious application for the EHang 184 is that of emergency services. While a similar concept exists in the U.S. called “Lifeflight”, it is far too expensive to adopt except for rare medical emergencies. Take a “Lifeflight” once and you’ll see just how expensive this option is. The EHang 184 might just be an economically viable solution for transporting incapacitated patients between hospitals.
The second drone product being developed by EHang is called the Ghostdrone 2.0. This consumer drone offering comes with a smart app that allows users to see what their drone is seeing through a pair of virtual reality goggles just like the rugged individual seen below:
This product offering seems compelling but it hardly looks like something you couldn’t already cobble together using a pair of VR goggles and your bog standard DJI consumer drone. The most exciting drone product being developed by EHang looks like the EHang 184 “drone airplane”. If the product actually launches this year then we’ll be looking forward to see what buyers step forward. Having the EHang 184 actually transport humans in any country as a commercial product will validate the feasibility of this technology.
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