Remember how the Jetsons traveled the skies in a personal, self-flying bubble? Yeah. It’s happening. Meet the EHang 184, an autonomous, human-carrying drone just announced at CES. China-based company EHang expects it to be in production within a year’s time—which means it seems likely you’ll be able to get flown around by an autonomous vehicle before you can be driven around in one.
Owners of an EHang could park it in their driveways (assuming their driveways are on the wide side), and take off or land anywhere—no helipads or helicopter license needed (for now), despite similarities in appearance. How it works: input your destination’s longitude and latitude coordinates into a tablet-based system in front of the passenger seat, and with the push of a button, you’ll be on your way. In its current iteration, though, the EHang isn’t going to take you much further than your office or friend’s house, as the all-electrical vehicle can only fly for 23 minutes between charges. Another limitation: the drone is limited to a single passenger, with limited storage and a weight limit of 220 pounds. Oh, and it’ll cost you between $200,000 and $300,000 when it’s ready for production.
Studies indicate the public has shown lots of skepticism in self-driving cars, so self-driving planes are almost certain to raise lots of eyebrows--and with pretty good reason. EHang has started to put programs in place for its human drones, including an on-the-ground control and support center, but nitty-gritty details on maintenance and emergency management are still thin. One thing is certain: the device will have to get safety clearances from the Federal Aviation Administration before units are sold, which means that it’ll be put through the same standards testing as any other aircraft that carries humans.