The Chinese company, Ehang’s, pilotless drone taxi was unveiled in early 2018. While passenger flights are still a few years away, Ehang has put its drone taxis to good use in the coronavirus pandemic. The autonomous drone taxis will deliver products to households in rural villages, hilltops, and even islands. The deliveries are part of a trial that is expected to be conducted in the city of Taizhou in eastern China’s Zhejiang province. The company obtained approval from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) on 27th May. This cargo transport license for drones is reportedly the first license in the world to be issued by a government.

Ehang 216 : The pilotless drone taxi

The drone that will carry out the deliveries is Ehang 216. The 216 is based after Ehang’s first passenger drone, Ehang 184. It has 8 arms making it an octacopter and capable of carrying two passengers. Furthermore, the unmanned drone was tested in the skies of North Carolina, America.

Ehang 216 North Carolina USA
The pilotless drone taxi, Ehang 216, being tested in North Carolina | Source: New Atlas

Initially, Ehang unveiled the concept in the US at the CES 2016. During its initial phase, the Ehang 216 could only carry a single passenger from one point to another. However, during the CES 2020, the company showcased the drone in its full capacity. The drone is now capable of carrying a payload of 220 kg and cruise at a speed of 100 km/h.

Ehang 216 pilotless drone taxi
Source: Ehang

Ehang 216 Specifications:

  • Vehicle Type: Electric VTOL AAV(Autonomous Aerial Vehicle)
  • Passengers: 2
  • Cruise Speed: 100 km/h (62mph)
  • Max Cruise Speed: 130 km/h (82mph)
  • Max Altitude: 3,000 meters (9,843 ft)
  • Range: 35 km (22 miles)
  • Flight Time: 21 minutes
  • Max Payload: 220 kg (485 lbs)

The significance of this cargo trial is huge. Moreover, this trial will successfully demonstrate Ehang’s capabilities to not just transport cargo but also people in the near future. As of January 2020, the Ehang 216 has completed approximately 2,000 manned test flights.

Hu Huazhi, founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Ehang, said “We are very pleased that Yihang Intelligent has obtained the world’s first manned-grade self-driving aircraft logistics trial license issued by the Civil Aviation Administration of China. This groundbreaking license has Significant significance. It not only further strengthens the first-mover advantage of EHang Intelligence in the field of air traffic, accelerates the commercial application of AAV technology and air logistics solutions, but also explores and establishes for regulatory agencies around the world. An inclusive, open, and sustainable regulatory environment has laid the foundation. This will also help promote the long-term development of urban air traffic (UAM) applications.”

This latest logistics license will add on to its prior tests and strengthen its prospects for the approval of manned flights. It will be the first time that an industrial drone of such magnitude is officially allowed to operate in civilian airspace. Therefore, this could pave the way for trials of similar drones across the world. Additionally, Ehang has also partnered with LN Holdings to develop the world’s first ‘passenger drone hotel