Watch China’s Autonomous Flying Taxi Take to the Skies

Autonomous drone taxis are closer than we think.

YouTube / Aviation Week

The future is closer than you think. Almost a year after revealing its vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) aircraft at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, Chinese company EHang has released video of its autonomous flying taxi conducting a test flight.

The unmanned aircraft is powered by eight electric motors attached to four arms to allow for the transportation of humans and a total load capacity of 264 pounds. According to the company, the 184 is expected to travel for 23 minutes at a time, enabling it to cover approximately 20 miles in a single hop. 

Although the aircraft just completely successful unmanned flight, it's far from ready for production. At this time, the 184 has demonstrated that it is capable of taking off and landing, general maneuvering, vertical climbing and night flights without a payload present. It still requires a human to operate it, and it's still not known how the aircraft could behave during emergency operations, such as evasive and recovery maneuvers.

The EHang 184 is expected to utilize a 4G network for navigation purposes and to communicate with the company's control room. When completed, the control room will dispatch the 184s on assignments, monitor their normal use, and communicate with passengers.

The field of autonomous flying machines, once the stuff of fiction, is quickly becoming more likely. As The Drive previously reported, Nevada has agreed to allow EHang to conduct tests of its flying machines in the States. And it isn't just small newcomers interested in the tech; the likes of Uber and Airbus have also announced they're exploring small, self-flying shuttlecraft.