Ehang the maker of the Ghost Drone just launched the first Autonomous Aerial Vehicle at CES 2016 which might get a lot of folks excited. It’s basically a manned version of a traditional multicopter UAV called EHang 184 that provides means of personal transportation for a single passenger weighing not more than 100 kilograms or 220 pounds. So first of all it’s not going to be the choice of NFL linemen because this maximum payload is for the passenger and personal belongings (luggage) combined. So a reasonable sized person would not be able to fly it having boots on :). The 184 was named for ‘one’ passenger, ‘eight’ propellers, and ‘four’ arms.
The Ehang 184 will have a 23 minute flight time roughly allowing a 10 mile flight as announced at CES this week. Whether that, combined with a 2-4 hour charging time is sufficient for day-to-day use depends on the owner’s personal situation, but the flight time suggests Lithium Polymer and that could also be a concern. LiPo batteries are great, most UAVs use them, but they have to be handled correctly and tend to lose voltage suddenly in certain conditions such as cold weather. How you store and deplete them is also an issue.Being zero emission is all great, but EHang should consider other power supply options like hybrid power (just an idea) in order to make the EHang 184 a reasonable alternative to small helicopters.
Reports from the EHang booth at CES say that the “pilot” or better say passenger in the cockpit will not have a chance to fly the aircraft or take over controls from the autonomous system. Well, not being able to fly the aircraft is a problem because it takes away most of the fun you would imagine owners could have owning this puppy. A system similar to waypoint flying in UAVs that simply takes you to a desired location by just clicking on it on Google Maps sounds great as an option. But only as an option. Not the only way to fly the aircraft.
The 184 will cost between $200.000 – $300.000. Now a small but proven helicopter such as the Robinson R44 Raven I costs $355.000 brand new. It has a 350 mile range and can transport 3 passengers at 4000 feet. Ehang plans to make AAVs or Autonomous Aerial Vehicles available later on this year. Well, this seems a bit too optimistic to my opinion as the prototype at CES was not demonstrated with any flight, even an unmanned one. Given the regulatory, pricing and other concerns, chances are that you will not be flying this thing very soon