Drones are being used for everything from deliveries to espionage, but could they also be used for transportation? The world will find out this summer when the world’s first passenger-carrying drone takes flight in Dubai.
Early tests of the revolutionary Ehang 184 drone, built by Chinese drone company Beijing Yi-Hang Creation Science and Technology Corporation, have already taken place and have been very successful.
Each drone is equipped to take one passenger and luggage with a total weight of up to 220 pounds for up to 30 minutes at a maximum height of 1,000 feet and speeds up to 100 miles per hour. The initial service will operate similar to a limo service, generally taking VIP passengers between the airport and other popular attractions—a perfect fit for the opulent lifestyle of Dubai.
Design-wise, the drone looks like a giant quadcopter. It uses an electric motor to power eight propellers. The device was designed with Dubai’s weather conditions in mind and can withstand harsh, hot summer temperatures and cold nights.
The passenger drone is “auto-piloted” by a central command center that can automatically make emergency landings, self-diagnose issues, and avoid obstacles, so the only control inside the drone is a touch screen the passenger uses to choose a destination. The takeoff, flight, and landing are monitored by ground control with some human oversight. After the flight, it takes two hours to fully recharge the drone.
Obviously, one of the biggest concerns with this type of drone is the safety of the passengers. A number of safeguards are in place, including a system that automatically lands the drone immediately if anything goes wrong mechanically. It is also powered with secure computer networks that greatly minimize the risk of being hacked.
“The way these systems work, making them work normally is easy,” said Steve Wright, senior lecturer in avionics and aircraft systems at the University of the West of England. “The tricky bit is making systems that are resilient to failure.”
According to Ehang officials and representatives from Dubai, initial safety tests have shown that the drone performs well in a number of conditions and can reliably get passengers where they need to go safely.
Future of Drones
Dubai is the perfect place to start passenger-carrying drones because the city is dedicated to developing futuristic travel. Known for its busy roads and bad traffic, Dubai is working towards automating 25% of its vehicles by 2030 and building a Hyperloop to link the city to Abu Dhabi.
If passenger-carrying drones are as successful as many experts believe they will be, the practice could quickly expand throughout the city and the region.
Although Ehang will start its flights in Dubai, the company hopes to eventually expand around the world and have passenger-carrying drones become as pervasive as recreational drones.
In the U.S., the state of Nevada recently passed a law allowing the testing of human-carrying drones like the Ehang 184, which could set the stage for similar travel growth in America.
If the drone is successful at safely navigating through crowded airspace above cities, the technology could also be used for medical evacuations and logistics missions, as well as faster business travel.
Although the Ehang 184 will be the first passenger drone in use, many others are currently in development. Israeli-based design firm Urban Aeronautics recently announced that it will have a passenger drone ready for military use by 2020.
Drones have grown and increased their technology at a fairly rapid pace. With the move towards passenger-carrying drones in Dubai, they could change the entire transportation space as we know it.