Taxi drivers, even Uber drivers, might become obsolete in Nevada. The state is giving the green-light for testing an autonomous drone taxi that can move passengers with just a few buttons to indicate direction. The flying taxi from China might sound like something from science fiction, but the first trial tests will take place later this year.
It's called the EHang 184 according to Yahoo News, and it looks like a giant version of the quad-copter drones that have become popular over the last decade. It made its first appearance in the CES 2016 show, but what impressed audiences most is the easy operation of the vehicle (essentially users just need to push a few buttons).
It takes the name 184 because it can move one passenger with eight propellers and four arms. It can fly for roughly 25 minutes at a time, with an average flying speed of 62 miles per hour at a maximum altitude of 11,500 feet.
It might also become Nevada's solution for public transportation in the future. The distant future.
As the Guardian explained, "given that fully autonomous road vehicles are unlikely to be widely available until the middle of the next decade, the time when commuters can simply jump in a flying autonomous taxi drone to get to work appears to be some time off yet."
Still, the state-run nonprofit group Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS) and the Governor's Office of Economic Development have announced they will help the Chinese EHang company navigate the regulatory red tape to make drone taxis a reality.
EHang CEO Hauzi Hu is hoping the 184 will have "a global impact across dozens of industries beyond personal travel. The 184 is evocative of a future we've always dreamed of and is primed to alter the very fundamentals of the way we get around."
Nevada's wide open desert spaces might serve as a perfect testing ground for the new vehicle and the state is going through a tech boom according to Popular Science, but there are obvious hurdles to get over.
Automation and altitude prompted Business Insider to ask "what would happen if the flight-control tablet crashed or some technical issue arose mid-flight" when first seeing the vehicle. The 184 has no manual controls, even for emergencies, such as a steering wheel or joystick.
The BBC reports that the drone taxi's software is designed to force an automatic landing at the closest available location. According to EHang there are "multiple fail-safes in place to take over if there's a specific failure," and a flight control center that "can intervene if necessary."
Then there's the FAA regulations. As previously reported by The Inquisitr, even small, remote-control drones have become a headache for law enforcement. The current rules vary from state to state, and many fear a collision with a commercial aircraft. One such incident nearly happened at Los Angeles International Airport, and the frequency of near disasters seems to be growing.
The passenger drones could mitigate congestion in the streets of crowded cities and holds potential in rural areas where roads are not as well developed.
Another barrier is cost. The price of a single 184 will likely be over $200,000. That means the aerial flight could out of reach for many commuters, although a passenger drone taxi might be perfect for a tourist-based economy like Las Vegas.
[Image via Ehang]