As excitement continues to build over the future of autonomous vehicles, the concept of the flying car has become almost antiquated – a pop culture-infused joke restricted to references to The Jetsons or, for those with more discerning taste, The Fifth Element. Yet, thanks to some deeply ambitious companies, this fantastical idea may finally have lift off.
Over the past few years, the flying car has taken a backseat to driverless vehicles, both in terms of development and hype. Frankly, it’s unlikely that this is going to change over the next few years as autonomous vehicles play an increasingly prevalent role in our lives, while flying cars still seem, well, a bit ridiculous.
That said, there are signs that the flying car may not be as laughably far-fetched as we may think. At CES last year, the Ehang 184 was exhibited and described as ‘the safest, smartest, and eco-friendly low altitude autonomous aerial vehicle.’ Ehang, a Chinese dronemaker, developed the 184 as more a manned drone than a flying car.
Indeed, the vehicle — an eight rotor aircraft which can accommodate one person — mixes autonomous and drone tech to lift the passenger 500 metres into the air, with the option for remote override should any issues occur.
While the Ehang 184’s initial introduction to the world was met with a fair degree of scepticism, the company looks set to confound its doubters, with recent claims that it’s now almost ready to begin operation (pending the stupendous amount of red tape required to allow a flying vehicle to occupy airspace).
So, what are Ehang’s plans, now that they’ve ushered in the brave new world of flying cars? First, it’s to Uber-ise them — selling them as a service so that, should you literally need a lift home, the 184 is ready to sweep you off your feet. And yes, this may sound a bit pie-in-the-sky, but Ehang isn’t the only company with its head in the clouds.
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