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Would you get in a one-man quadcopter air taxi?

This Chinese firm is touting plastic ones

By Gareth Corfield, 14 Sep 2017

DSEI 2017 A Chinese company reckons it’s going to test fly a personal drone air taxi in the UK - letting any old bod take to the skies after bonking two buttons in an app.

Ehang’s 184 drone is on display at the Defence and Security Exhibition International show in London, as the company’s UK distributors pitch for potential business from military, police and security forces from around the world.

The vehicle features one seat, eight motors, four propellers and a claimed maximum operating altitude of 10,000 feet. It is also said to be capable of carrying a 120kg payload.

Potential uses touted by the UK distributors include ferrying disaster relief supplies into an affected area, ferrying people into and out of those areas, and potentially strapping weapons to it and turning the faintly ridiculous craft into a military item.

While staff on the stand did disclose that some passers-by at the show had questioned the level of protection available in case of a crash (the Ehang 184 is made from plastic and carbon fibre), they emphasised that the air taxi has already undergone flight testing in China. A UK test flight is said to be scheduled for early 2018.

The control philosophy, as explained on the stand, is straightforward. For taxi purposes it will work like Uber: you select your pickup point and your arrival point on an app, get into the drone when it arrives, and trust its flying skills. A network operations centre will monitor these aircraft in case of trouble, we were told.

Semi automated control options will also be available, The Reg was informed, allowing some limited manoeuvring in flight. This was illustrated on the stand by a joystick and throttle that looked remarkably similar to these items advertised on eBay.

Your correspondent owns a set of these (hey, they were cheap) and wasn’t impressed with the precision of the joystick or its ability to hold a calibrated zero. Presumably the items on the stand were illustrative, rather than the final ones selected for passenger use. ®

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