While the Ehang 184 is quite pricey, Ehang hopes that a mass production run of its successors will bring down the price.
Made by the dronemaker Beijing Yi-Hang Creation Science and Technology Corporation, the Ehang 184 is a "passenger drone" that can carry a single person (and luggage) of up to 220 pounds. With a four-rotor layout in the form of a giant quadcopter, it has enough battery power to fly a range of just over 30 miles, at speeds up to 100 miles per hour. The Ehang 184 is also highly autonomous; while its flight computer is linked to a command center (with some human oversight), the flight computer is capable of making emergency landings, self diagnosing issues, and avoiding obstacles.
The head of Dubai's Roads and Transportation Authority, Matt Al Tayer, said that the municipal authorities have already tested the Ehang 184 in the skies, and found it to be safe and satisfactory. The concept is that akin to a limo service: it would carry VIP passengers via the air to local destinations, such as from the airport to urban hubs.
The drone is part of Dubai's wider push for a futuristic transit system, an effort that also wants 25 percent of all vehicles to be automated by 2030—and a Hyperloop linking the city to Abu Dhabi.
This high-profile service debut of the Ehang 184 is a victory not just for Chinese unmanned aviation, but also future visions of autonomous and networked systems being used to navigate crowded urban airspaces. On the defense side, the Ehang 184's technology can potentially be applied to medical evacuation, logistics, and even swarming systems on land, air and sea. In the meantime, the success of Ehang 184 in Dubai could open the skies of other global cities to it and other Chinese tech wonders.