Sunday, April 16, 2017

Science fiction, or just Dubai?

By Tom Jeffrey

When the Chinese Tech Firm EHang plans to bring drone taxis to the skies of Dubai, we have to wonder.

Conceived in the bustling city street of Guangzhou, China in 2014, EHang set out with the goal to “Let Humankind Fly Freely Like A Bird”.  After receiving crowdfunding later that year for their successful GHOST DRONE 1.0, EHang became a leader in smart drone technology, producing top of the line consumer drones.  Having set up offices in both California, U.S.A. and Dusseldorf, Germany, the company has grown into an international frontrunner.  Their most ambitious project, pictured above, is unlike any product that has ever come before it.  Their concept is to totally revolutionize city travel by eliminating the four wheeled, two ton, space consuming taxi car and replace it with your very own personal drone taxi.  
EHang recently signed a contract with the government in Dubai to bring a fleet of these drone taxis to the city's affluent, high tech business community.  They expect these machines to become quite popular, as conventional car travel on the road can be expensive, in both time, and money.  
Though undoubtedly high tech, the premise behind such a product is quite simple.  After having perfected the commercially conventional sized drones, capable of carrying a video camera, they simply seek to enlarge the design and make it comfortable for human habitation.  Prominent on all EHang designs are the signature “over-under” propeller design, which work to minimize instability caused by rotational torque from the motor.  A series of lithium ion batteries carry the craft for a total of 30 minutes flight time, enough for several trips within a city, such as Dubai.  
Just as conventional drones are controlled from the ground, each taxi will be controlled by computer software, and overseen by a group of specialists on the ground.  
Testing has been going on consistently for the past two years, and reports are highly successful.  EHang recently did a public demo in Las Vegas, Nevada, to showcase the new technology.  
This highlights a trend towards automation that has been increasingly prevalent in past decades.  While many industries, like automobiles, may be slow to transfer over to self-driving methods, completely new industries, like air taxies, are being born into it.  People do not have the preconception that they should be able to drive the flying machine themselves as we do with four wheeled automobiles.  People are used to having others take the wheel on airplanes, so the continuation of such a trend should be of no issue.  Many people are still worried about the safety of such a craft, however.  
This also signals the advancement of lightweight, high capacity batteries that will allow for greater proliferation of electric vehicles in the future.  

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