No pilot licence needed to fly this car

Mr Derrick Xiong with the Ehang 184, which has four battery-powered propellers and is equipped with fully automated navigation. It can fly for 20 to 30 minutes at a height of 300m to 500m.
Mr Derrick Xiong with the Ehang 184, which has four battery-powered propellers and is equipped with fully automated navigation. It can fly for 20 to 30 minutes at a height of 300m to 500m.ST PHOTO: CHONG KOH PING

A Chinese start-up from Guangzhou is developing one of the world’s first flying cars.

The vehicle can fly for 20 to 30 minutes at a height of 300m to 500m, and can carry one passenger weighing not more than 100kg.

It has eight propellers and four arms and is equipped with fully automated navigation.

The passenger does not need to pilot the vehicle as it is connected to a ground control centre that tracks and manages the flight route.

Known as Ehang 184, it is the star product of EHang, a Chinese drone start-up founded in 2014.

"It is the same as what we do in civil aviation today. The only difference is that civil planes fly at a height of 30,000m, whereas we fly at a height of 300m to 500m," EHang co-founder Derrick Xiong told reporters visiting the company's headquarters recently.

Given its short flight time, the vehicle can only provide transport for short to medium distances, such as transporting organs for surgery.

So far, it has tested a flight carrying people, including Mr Xiong and Guangzhou city's vice-mayor Wang Dong.

FLYING START

We hope to lower the bar for people to learn how to fly, whether it's a big plane or a small plane. Through the use of artificial intelligence, we will let billions of people have a go at experiencing the joy of flying.

MR DERRICK XIONG, co-founder of EHang, which developed the world's first flying car.

"We hope to lower the bar for people to learn how to fly, whether it's a big plane or a small plane. Through the use of artificial intelligence, we will let billions of people have a go at experiencing the joy of flying," said Mr Xiong, 28, who is also EHang's chief marketing officer.

He also revealed that the company is in discussion with Singapore, New Zealand and Dubai to use the flying car to ferry people between islands.

After two years of constant trials and prototyping, the company is now "very close" to commercialising the vehicle, he said.

EHang has been working closely with the Chinese aviation authority and Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority to test the aerial vehicle.

To date, it has clocked more than 1,000 test flights, both in Guangzhou and Dubai. Next year, it will start test flights in the state of Nevada in the United States.

"Many will ask when can we see this in the skies. Well, we now test-fly it every single day in Guangzhou. We go to a secret venue - an abandoned amusement park which looks like a huge patch of forest," said Mr Xiong.

Test flights are mostly done with a dummy that weighs the same as an adult, but company employees and others will sometimes go on board.

Although Mr Xiong could not say when the flying car will officially launch its first flight, he is confident that it will dramatically change the face of transportation.

"This will transform a two-dimensional transport system like the MRT, public buses and flyovers into a three-dimensional system. I believe this is one of the key problems that mankind needs to urgently resolve," he added.

Chong Koh Ping


Correction note: EHang has clarified that the EHang 184 self-driving aerial vehicle has eight propellers and four arms. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2018, with the headline 'No pilot licence needed to fly this car'. Print Edition | Subscribe