By Danielle Olero
The vintage cartoon, The Jetsons, inspired many to predict there would be flying cars by the year 2000. But amongst our many modern conveniences, flying to work in a car has not been an option. People may not have invented flying cars by the turn of the century, but we may be closer than we ever imagined. Many people use drones to carry packages, take videos, diffuse bombs, and now they can carry you.
The Chinese drone-maker Ehang debuted the 184, a prototype of the first human-carrying drone on January 6, 2016. The drone is autonomous, has eight propellers, four arms, and the capacity to carry one human. Its eight-propeller design is more stable than a one-propeller helicopter. After entering the destination on Google Maps through a Microsoft Tablet, the flier will only need to push two buttons: one for take off, and the other for landing. The drone will take off and land vertically without a runway. Safety features include several back up power sources, automatic landing of the drone in case of an emergency, and an assistance center for fliers who are in need of help. Users can also fold the drone to fit in a regular sized parking space.
However, Ehang will need to overcome several regulatory hurdles before the drones can take you to work. Ehang is working closely with the Chinese government to test these drones, but it has not been successful, even though China permits more private use of drones than the United States. After its testing in China, Ehang intends to work with New Zealand, the United States, and other European countries to authorize the distribution of these drones in those countries.
The regulations that will govern the rules of the sky are unclear. Foreign governments will need to identify which regulations should govern the drones and the permits for the unmanned aircrafts. Ehang, for example, will need to construct control towers in the countries where their drones will fly. In the United Kingdom, there are regulations that may permit drones for private use if the carried objects are under 20 kg. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) only permits drones that are between 0.55 lbs. and 55 lbs. At the CES gadget show, the FAA declined to comment on their views regarding the new drones and instructed Ehang to contact their unmanned aircraft systems office to discuss testing the drones in the United States. The company expects to sell the drones within a year at a cost between $200,000 and $300,000.
It will likely be a few years before drones can transport you to work. But it is plausible that the next generation may need to learn not only the rules of the road, but also the rules of the sky.
Image source: mycoolbin.com.