back to article Chinese unleash autonomous airborne taxi

The "where's my bloody flying car?" protesters among you should take heart that the world may be a 23-minute autonomous flight closer to the reality of personal airborne transport with the unveiling of the EHang 184 "autonomous aerial vehicle". The 200kg EHang 184 promises to "achieve humanity’s long-standing dream of easy, …

  1. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Pint

    At last!

    Many questions, many issues, but it seems progress is being made towards the Jetson point.

    In celebration, I'm raising one (or two) of these - probably counter to the new Gov guidelines*

    * There is a serious grown-up conversation to be had about alcohol in our society, but the latest report doesn't seem to be it.

    1. NoneSuch
      Pint

      Idiot-proof interface?

      If anyone could ever patent such a thing, they would make billions.

      1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

        Re: Idiot-proof interface?

        indeed. Someone is vastly underestimating the capabilities of idiots.

        1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: Idiot-proof interface?

          It's an arms race. I'm convinced there's a secret corporation out there somewhere specifically breeding more capable, resourceful and ingenious idiots...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Idiot-proof interface?

            RE: Anonymous Custard

            Suspect the US is in the lead.

            Watch Fox "news" for more than 2 min and you'll feel your higher mental functions flee for the high ground.

          2. Adam 1 Silver badge

            Re: Idiot-proof interface?

            "Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the Universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the Universe is winning."

            -- Rick Cook

      2. d3vy Silver badge

        Re: Idiot-proof interface?

        "Idiot-proof interface?

        If anyone could ever patent such a thing, they would make billions."

        Just getting it written down for future reference, I lay claim to the above mentioned interface (on a mobile device)

  2. hplasm Silver badge
    Happy

    There we go-

    The Future is here, and it is Chinese.

    1. Peter Simpson 1
      Happy

      Re: There we go-

      The Future is here, and it is Chinese.

      Best not to cast too critical an eye over it, then.

      // lest it explode, crash or poison you.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Blade Runner

    Someone is going to end up losing an arm or a leg...make for a funny youtube clip though!

    1. Notas Badoff

      Re: Blade Runner

      No, it would not be funny.

      But I do predict a new urban 'sport' of flash-piling in-demand landing spots with stationary junk - trash cans, cars, park benchs, signs, etc. - forcing the 'autonomous' brain to choose between obeying the passenger repeatedly bonking the "land where I said" button vs. landing with load noises and unable to take off again vs. running out of juice and landing quite suddenly anyway. I'm sure the random taxi driver will be quite amused at the autocar deciding a taxi roof was the best choice to land with flat batteries.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Blade Runner

        They'll need guards for those leg height propellers.

        Also be as noisy as hell. 4 to 8 props trying to displace 2 tons worth of air. Helicopters knock out roughly 100dB, so what would a taxi rank of these things sound like?

        1. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: Blade Runner

          @Dewix

          "what would a taxi rank of these things sound like?"

          Probably about the same as my local rank on a Friday or Saturday night.

        2. Steven Roper

          Re: Blade Runner

          Introducing the new EHang 184! It slices, dices, juliennes, juices! It cuts, minces and slashes in a thousand different ways to make short work of any fruits, vegetables, meat, pedestrians or cyclists you throw at it! See those high-speed whirling stainless-steel blades whizz, chop and slice their way through the toughest muscle, bone and sinew!

          But wait - that's not all! If you order your new EHang 184 within 24 hours, you also get this super-strong blade sharpener AND a complete spare set of high-quality stainless-steel replacement blades worth $5000, completely free of charge! You won't find a deal like this anywhere in shops, so don't delay - order today!

          Phone our toll-free number now on 1300-SLA-SHER and get yours fast while stocks last!

          1. Desidero

            Re: Blade Runner

            Whatever Julienne fries are.

        3. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

          Re: Blade Runner / what would it sound like?

          WubWubWubWubWubWubWubWubWubWubWubWubWubWubWubWubWubWubWUbWUbWUbWubWubWubWubWubWubWubWUbWubWubWubWubWhirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Blade Runner

      Its not so much a 'Spinner' as a 'Slicer!'

    3. Michael Thibault

      Re: Blade Runner

      Someone is going to end up in a stir fry. Or "Will it blend?" will pass into history.

      FTFY

  4. DrXym Silver badge

    From their website

    :"Ehang 184 AAV is the safest, Eco-est and Smartest low altitude autonomous aerial vehicle, aiming on providing Medium-Short Distance communication and transportation solution"

    They left out the word hubris-est.

  5. sysconfig

    The new garage will have a flat roof then...

    ...because the "drive way" is just not the right place for a manned quadcopter.

    In all seriousness, though, this makes a lot more sense than autonomous vehicles in the long run.

  6. Boothy
    Thumb Up

    Wouldn't putting the blade arms at the top rather than the bottom be a better idea?

    It would improve stability (more weight below rather than above the blades), and also means you're less likely to clip a blade on the ground etc if the thing shifted during takeoff or landing (i.e. gust of wind etc). Plus you'd have a better view as a passenger.

    But otherwise, kudos to the designers, much more palatable that most of the previous attempts at a flying car.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  7. Willem55

    Ahhh.. pedestrians, off with there heads.

    1. PNGuinn
      Trollface

      "Ahhh.. pedestrians, off with there heads."

      Ahhh.. Cyclists, off with there heads.

      FIFY.

      Al hail the new Chinese pavement safety enhancement device!!

      1. handle

        Re: "Ahhh.. pedestrians, off with there heads."

        Ahhh... those who can't spell, off with they're heads.

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge
          Headmaster

          Ahhh... those who can't spell, off with they're heads

          Ahhh... those who can't discern between an grammatical error such as "there" versus "their" and a speeling error, off with their heads.

          1. DropBear Silver badge
            Trollface

            Re: Ahhh... those who can't spell, off with they're heads

            Wow! I never figured the Queen of Hearts was reading El Reg...

          2. Montreal Sean

            Re: Ahhh... those who can't spell, off with they're heads

            Ahhh....Those who can't figure out when to use "an" and "a", and who can't spell " spelling", off with their hedz!

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "Ahhh.. pedestrians, off with there heads."

          @handle

          "Ahhh.. pedestrians, off with there heads."

          Perhaps in your spelling correction you might have been better saying:

          "Ahhh.. pedestrians, off with their heads."

    2. StaudN

      Someone didn't spot the take-off / landing profile section I see.

  8. Oldfogey

    Wheels

    Wouldn't take much to put some lightweight wheels on so it could be driven for short distances!

    Yes, put the rotors up high, also use 5 arms, for greater stability and also for safety if a rotor fails.

    1. Robert E A Harvey

      Re: Wheels

      One press release said it could land with just one rotor> I notice the word "safely" was missing.

      It is minor details like that, and the diameter of the rotors, that has me crying "bullshit"

      1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Re: Wheels

        "

        One press release said it could land with just one rotor> I notice the word "safely" was missing.

        It is minor details like that, and the diameter of the rotors, that has me crying "bullshit"

        "

        It may be possible. The craft would obviously roll if three rotor pairs failed, but if the remaining rotor could rapidly swivel so it was pointing up on the now 90 degree rolled aircraft, it could well produce sufficient lift to act like a parachute and the craft would descend at a safe speed. The unpowered arms would also act as a shock-absorber when it hit the ground.

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge

          Re: Wheels

          It may be possible.

          They're probably counting on the assistance of your personal exhaust port pointing downward, the reaction force from the expelled solids, fluids and gases, and the resulting weight loss.

        2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

          Re: Wheels

          As long as you can walk away from it, it qualifies as a "landing". If you can't, it's a crash.

    2. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Re: Wheels

      Yes, put the rotors up high, also use 5 arms, for greater stability and also for safety if a rotor fails.

      Thats' already been done. See here:

      http://ul-segelflug.de/f-a-e/519-volocopter-safest-airvehicle-in-the-world.html

      Both have about a 20 min flight time on a full charge, but at least the Volocopter has a BRS[*] fitted for when it all goes horribly wrong together with rather more redundancy in its control systems and motor collection.

      [*] BRS = Ballistic Recovery System. This is proven technology, as fitted to the Cirrus SR-22 among other aircraft. Push the red button and a rocket pulls a parachute out the top so you can float down - always provided you're high enough for the parachute to inflate before you hit the floor.

      1. handle

        Re: Wheels

        ...and "floor" is just that, as opposed to "main road", "side of building", "lake", "school playground", etc, etc.

  9. Sureo

    What will you do if you arrive at your destination with 30 seconds flying time left and someone's parked in your spot?

    1. Captain TickTock
      Joke

      Parking Spot Taken

      If it's Paris, you land on top of them, or push them out of the way...

    2. TeeCee Gold badge
      Mushroom

      I see the problem. 30 seconds is not enough time to get to orbit and nuke the site.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Alternatives

    Maybe a jet engine with directed air flow via the arms would be safer, quieter, lighter and more fuel efficient? Basically a modern, computer controlled take on the flying bedstead.

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Flame

      Re: Alternatives

      So, sort of a mini-Harrier? I doubt that would fly, because

      - a jet engine is a bit more complicated than a bunch of electric motors, and requires regular and specialised maintenance.

      - you have to be aware of the resistance to hot jet exhaust of the landing/takeoff area. You could try paving them with marketing professionals, but I don't think that's a feasible option in all locations.

      1. handle

        Re: Alternatives

        You could always see if Pavegen were interested.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Alternatives

        RE: Stoneshop

        Yes, a mini-Harrier. It would have a greater chance of flying because:

        - It's a proven technology that has worked at human scale with all of the cleaver stuff like thrust & energy requirements already worked out.

        - Props get more complicated the larger they get. When something is only the size of a sheet of paper you don't need to think of efficiencies gained from the blades rake angle and tilt, vortex interaction with the plexi-glass windscreen or safety margins for power requirements.

        - Down force for 2 tons of a quadcopter will be the same as 2 tons of jet-taxi. Those flagstones will fly up for either. Moving the thrust further away from the surface by raising the thrust points higher on the chassis and angling them outward during take-off and landing would distribute the force of the thrust but not prevent it.

        - Heat maybe the only differing issue. Again this can be mitigated by increasing the distance of the thrust exhaust from the ground.

        - Jet engines don't like being stopped then started but by comparison to props they are mile for mile, flight hour for flight hour almost maintenance free and incredibly fuel efficient.

        1. annodomini2

          Re: Alternatives

          1. The harrier has to carry water to cool the exhaust when operating in hover. It's why they can only hover for ~30secs.

          2. Jet engines don't like being throttle'd up/down either, they are efficient in Jet Planes because they get relatively more efficient due to the speed of travel they still consume more fuel/thrust than a reciprocating engine. Helicopters use them as a Gas generator at constant speed, varying the speed of the rotors by adjusting the output side, not the input side. They are useful in Helicopters, because they get the power to weight up.

          3. Pressure is over area, so 2000N over 4 sqm is going to have a less significant impact that 2000N over 0.25 sqm.

  11. Howard Hanek Bronze badge
    Meh

    Public Safety Issues

    If they operate them like their motor vehicles we'll witness an additional million fatalities a year.

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Pirate

      Re: Public Safety Issues

      So? There doesn't appear to be a shortage of people at the moment.

      I suspect that the reasons governments want to reduce traffic deaths is that it eats into their tax revenues.

      1. Michael Thibault

        Re: Public Safety Issues

        >I suspect that the reasons governments want to reduce traffic deaths is ...

        I suspect that you are being presumptuous.

  12. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    The biggest issue that I see is that it would be unable to carry out an emergency landing in the event of a complete power failure (which both fixed-wing and helicopters can do). This is mitigated by the fact that it has 8 motors (so a critical number are unlikely to all fail at the same time), and the software could be made to ensure that it carries out a controlled descent in the event that the battery is depleted below a set percentage. I should think that to stand any chance of certification, it would need to have 2 completely independent power systems (2 battery packs and power busses). The main consideration being that no single failure would result in in dropping like a brick.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Balls! to all that Health & Safety cobblers, I WANT MY EHang AND I WANT IT NOW!!!

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        I don't want your Ehang

        crashing on top of me.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    TAXI!

    'Where to sir?'

    THE NEAREST HOSPITAL!

    'Why sir?'

    I LEFT MY HAND UP A LITTLE BIT TOO LONG WHEN I HAILED YOU!

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: TAXI!

      If it's a lawyer, he'll be demanding compensation for the lost Rolex.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You knew this was going to happen

    As previously advised drones were just the beginning of another world crisis dealing with the clueless, inept and braindead. Personal flight toys will be the next phase. At least one good point is that with the aerial AV, the Darwinian process will be very effective in ridding the planet of many clueless, naïve fools.

  15. Borg.King

    Scaled up quad-copter

    This is just a concept at this time, they've not flown it with a real person inside.

    To be viable, the blades need to be enclosed, and there needs to be a shed load more of them. It needs to be drivable so that it can move from the designated roof top landing spot to a charger for the return journey.

    It also needs to be able to carry one or two people, and properly distribute any ballast without user control. During flight it'll have to follow current roads, no-one wants them making an emergency landing in their yard, but onto a normal street could be possible.

    Autonomous cars may be a dead concept already, replaced by a viable autonomous flying vehicle instead.

    Now if only I had invested in building a really large battery manufacturing facility, and had expertise in high power electric motors and drive systems. Over to you Mr. Musk.

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: Scaled up quad-copter

      Did they not show a video of it flying with a passenger?

      I agree it's still a concept. But a very good proof. Though as further up, some other designs are competing and arguably better in safety (parachute for total power failures).

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Scaled up quad-copter

      "During flight it'll have to follow current roads, no-one wants them making an emergency landing in their yard, but onto a normal street could be possible."

      So, not much use during rush hour over any large town or city then. Not many landing spots on the roads in the city centre at those times.

  16. TheOtherHobbes

    What could possibly go wrong?

  17. kwyj

    What, no 4K camera?

    How are we going to get our daily dose of people-carrying drone crashes on YouTube?

  18. Jim84

    parachute

    Yes there are some obvious improvements:

    - parachute on top for emergencies (some small aircraft have these now)

    - props on top

    - shrouded props

    All this would add weight though.

    To get the power density up, and given that cost doesn't matter that much at this point, how much would a fuel cell weigh and would it be better than just more batteries?

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: parachute

      I think batteries win on this scale.

      Larger scales a fuel cell would.

      But petroleum wins every time. (Not sure in this case they can make the engines if it's not a helicopter design)

  19. Not also known as SC
    Joke

    100kg limit

    Won't be much use in Western countries then.

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: 100kg limit

      Buying one has already cost you an arm and a leg, so that's approximately 30% weight savings right there.

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Re: 100kg limit

      Yup, that's me out right now (dammit, X-mas!)

  20. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Looks like an excellent way to get yer legs cut off from the photo.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re-Inventing the wheel (or in this case, 'Little Nellie')

    GIRO COPTER!!

    Bond had his own personal airborne transport back in 1967!!

    Why are we all not flying around yet?

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