Is the world of autonomous single-passenger drones just over the horizon? Will you be commuting like George Jetson next year? Today, a Chinese company called EHang made a splashy announcement at CES promising just that. But consider us skeptical.
The company says its 440-pound pilotless vehicle, called the 184, will hit the market at some unspecified date in the near future. The estimated cost? Anywhere from $300,000 to $400,000.
“After we launch it at CES, the goal is to do the commercialization within three to four months,” EHang CFO Shang Hsaio told Wired. The definition of “commercialization” is never made clear, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.
All EHang needs now is FAA approval, a vast network of air-traffic control monitors, and a way to figure out how to make the thing land safely after just 23 minutes in the air. Oh, we didn’t mention that? Yeah, its battery lasts a rather humble 23 minutes, or about 10 miles. For a bit of perspective, that wouldn’t even get you halfway from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica. Also, the drone doesn’t have any manual controls, so if the thing fails mid-flight it seems you’re out of luck. (To extend our LA example, you’d be crashing somewhere around Culver City.)
EHang is better known for making hobby drones like the Ghost Drone, but that doesn’t make us any more optimistic that this thing will ever make it to market in the United States.
The latest trend in flying car vaporware seems to be producing tiny drones as “prototype” vehicles and claiming that your full-sized product is just waiting for FAA approval. Flying car companies like Moller International andTerrafugia have done just that. But just because you can make a small drone doesn’t mean you can make something that A) flies safely enough to produce for the commercial market and B) will be granted FAA certification.
We have a century of similar promises about flying cars under our belt. So while we’re rooting for EHang, even if it’s ultimately just a toy for the rich, we’re still not convinced that this thing will hit the US market anytime soon. In fact, I’d like to re-up my wager that if this thing hits the market in the next year or two, I’ll literally eat the sun.