Unmanned Air Taxi Makes First Flight: Is This the Future?

Do you ever feel like we’re living in the future? No, seriously, think about it for a second. The phones in our pockets are tiny but have more computing power than the first shuttle to the moon did.

Food is readily accessible for most of the world, and delicious. I can push a button and a stranger can bring me Pad Thai or tacos within an hour. I can hop on a plane and go literally anywhere in the world. With enough money, the Russians will even send me to space.

This is just another step to the future, right here: unmanned flying taxis. That’s right, the very first flying taxi with no driver made its first US test flight in North Carolina this week, and there is no doubt Uber is going to be all over this.

What’s the Deal With the Drone?

The autonomous drone is made by a Chinese company called Ehang, and this is the first time that the drone has ever gotten approval to fly in the United States. Many in the industry see this as a major first step for the company and drone travel in general.

the ehang 216 in flight
Ehang

The model was the Ehang 216, an all-electric drone that weighs about 600 lbs, and is approved to carry between 500-600 lbs of weight between average cargo and passengers. The drone has two seats, so you can’t stuff your whole family in there.

How Did the Test Flight Go?

While this is the first Ehang to ever fly in US airspace, this isn’t the first time the Ehang 2016 has taken to the air. Over 2,000 test flights have been conducted in various places that Ehang thinks will benefit from air taxis, including Austria, Qatar, the Netherlands, and the UAE.

The flight, which took place on a test track south of Raleigh, was delayed by about a half an hour due to radio issues. The 100 people who gathered to watch started milling about and talking to themselves, but everyone’s attention was on the drone when it finally took flight.

The demonstration lasted about 5 minutes and followed a pre-planned route. At one point, it got up to about 80 mph. If you’re worried that air drones will be slower than regular taxis, that is apparently not a concern.

The FAA does not allow passengers in unmanned drones to take flight as of yet, but this could be the first step. Ehang is hoping to be able to do demonstrations with people aboard their crafts soon.

Ehang also hopes to be able to use drones like this for low-weight medical supply transfer between hospitals or blood banks. Organs, blood sources, vital medicine and more could simply be flown to the needed destination.