It was a flying start at the Gitex Global 2022 in more ways than one. But of the 5,000 companies with a presence at Dubai World Trade Centre, one company did indeed make that ‘flying start’ in the literal sense. Ehang from China is an autonomous aerial vehicle manufacturer and it showcased a passenger ‘drone’ – the EH216 – at the e& (formerly Etisalat Group) pavilion.
“It’s the first fully autonomous and electric passenger drone on the planet,” said Andreas Perotti, CMO Europe, Ehang. “It can transport up to two people over a distance of roughly 35 kilometres at top speed of 130 kmph,” he added.
“It’s AI powered. It’s fully autonomous. You don’t have a pilot. It’s just two passengers.”
The vehicle has a maximum payload of around 220 kilograms. It’s 1.85m high and 5.63m wide. It has so far completed over 30,000 ‘safe trial flights’. The drone, which can take off and land vertically, is powered by 16 high-performance electric motors mounted on eight double rotor arms.
It uses 4G/5G high-speed wireless transmission channel to communicate smoothly with the command-and-control centre, thus enabling remote control of the aircraft and real-time transmission of flight data.
Road to certification
“The drone was showcased for the first time in Las Vegas in 2016, and it was developed throughout the years into the model that we see here,” Perotti said. According to him, the company is already doing project development and sales in markets where it’s closer to certification, after which commercial operations can begin.
“In the Chinese, Asian environment, we can expect commercial operations in a few months, whereas in the Western hemisphere, we can expect a timeframe of 2025-30.
“The UAE and the Gulf regions are very progressive when it comes to technology. We have been flying here on a prototype or experimental basis. Moving forward, it depends on the local regulators, so it’s difficult to give a timeline. But I can be sure that the UAE will be at the forefront.”
Last month, Ehang received its latest certification from authorities in China. “The Project Specific Certification Plan has been officially approved by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). At present, various specified review subjects have been confirmed, including performance and flight, structural strength, design and configuration, ground control station, airborne human-computer interaction, totality, continued airworthiness, etc., and activities for demonstration and verification of compliance are being prepared,” it said in a statement.
Manufacturing and test flights
The company has manufacturing facilities in China and Austria, where it’s jointly developed along with FACC, said Akash Mishra, who handles UAV certification for Ehang France. So far, it has done test flights in countries such as China, Indonesia, Estonia, the US, Qatar, Vienna, Netherlands, Korea and Japan, among other countries.
Ehang had in 2016 announced a partnership with the Dubai’s RTA (Roads and Transport Authority) to promote and introduce the EHang 184 autonomous aerial vehicle into the emirate.