Check out the flying taxi!
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Autonomous taxi drones have taken a step closer towards commercial release after EHang’s pilotless “flying taxi” conducted its first demonstration flight in Europe in Vienna on April 4.
The drone taxi, which costs $336,000, flew above the pitch at Vienna’s Generali Arena. The drone is being marketed by Austrian aerospace company FACC and its Chinese partner AVIC.
The vehicle, called the EHang 216, was airborne for a few minutes circling the field before coming down. According to Derrick Xiong, co-founder of EHang, the drone is now ready for mass production.
The EHang 216 seeks to offer short-haul services for passengers, industrial equipment, and urgent medical deliveries.
According to EHang, its product has been comprehensively tested while adding that several thousand units are already on order.
In order to compete in the new market for autonomous aircraft services that do not require runways, EHang joined Austria’s FACC in a strategic partnership last year.
EHang’s vehicle can seat two passengers and weighs up to 340 kg (750 pounds). It can reach speeds of up to 150 km per hour (90 mph) for “almost half an hour.”
Depending on the payload, it has a service range between 50 to 70 kilometers, said FACC Chief Executive Officer Robert Machtlinger.
An Austrian photographer who participated in the demonstration flight told Reuters that the passenger cabin is small so taller passengers might find the leg room less-than-adequate.
The FACC boasts that it has already received several thousand orders for the drone with the majority of demand coming from China.
Other competitors who are working towards coming out with autonomous flying cars early in the next decade include aerospace giant Airbus and Uber.
“Technically urban mobility, flying without a pilot is possible, it’s not a dream, it’s existing,” said Machtlinger.
He added that government regulation is the only hindrance they’re facing to produce larger volumes.
“A future legal framework for autonomous flying vehicles should regulate communication with other planes and helicopters and provide traffic rules,” he said.
To this end, Austria’s transport minister Norbert Hofer said that his country supports international efforts to speedily establish the necessary regulation.
“I hope that Austria will be the place where thousands of these drones, of these air taxis, will be built and I hope that very soon we will see a lot of these air taxis in the air,” Hofer said.
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