While many companies are racing to perfect autonomous driving technologies, no one really meddles in the "flying drone taxi" category. But now, that may change. The world's first passenger drone capable of autonomously carrying a person in the air has been given clearance for testing in Nevada. A Chinese company called EHang, the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS), and the Governor's Office of Economic Development have all partnered to put EHang's drone through testing and regulatory approval. The drone--the electric Ehang 184 passenger drone--premiered in the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this January.
There are quite a few companies working on developing drones for human transportation, but a new one has just jumped into the fray. With an almost fully developed prototype and plans to start producing them commercially next year, the aptly named Passenger Drone introduced itself by showing off a manned flight on its first prototype. The company has been quietly working on its tech for the last three years and it has produced a lightweight, car-sized drone that can fly autonomously, be maneuvered remotely or be controlled manually. It's lifted by 16 rotors and produces zero emissions. Passenger Drone says it plans to build five more prototypes and log over 1000 hours of flight time before proceeding with commercial production.
Police say a British Airways flight from Geneva hit an object believed to be a drone while on approach to London's Heathrow Airport. The airline says the plane landed safely Sunday afternoon and has been cleared for its next flight. The Airbus A320 was carrying 132 passengers and five crew members. No arrests have been made and police are investigating the incident. Aviation authorities have expressed concern about the risk posed by the increasing number of drones.
Ehang's CEO, Hu Huazhi, says these passenger drones will first focus on carrying wealthy customers to establish a customer base (making it much like Elon Musk's strategy for Tesla). Then, ideally, economies of scale would democratize passenger drones, so everyone else can take to the sky. That, at least, is the futuristic vision.
A drone nearly hit a passenger jet preparing to land in Los Angeles on Friday afternoon. The Los Angeles Times reported that a Lufthansa A380-800 jet was 14 miles away from LAX Airport and traveling at 5,000ft when the drone flew 200 feet above the aircraft. The pilot was readying the aircraft to land when the incident occurred. Aviation experts fear that drones--which are prohibited from flying higher than 400 feet--could cause a plane to lose an engine if they are sucked in. Local police are now searching for the owner of the drone.