Passenger Drone has announced that it is ready to launch the world’s most advanced autonomous aerial vehicle following successful manned test flights.
Passenger Drone has spent three years developing a prototype for the personal and public market that it hopes will “change the traditional means of commuter transportation.” The aerial vehicle has been tested since May this year, specifically concentrating on payload weights, motor failures, and control modes. Following this, the first manned flight took place in August (see the video below), generating very positive passenger feedback, and buoying the launch announcement at the end of September. The company also has plans to start commercial production in 2018, following the building of a further five prototypes and the logging of 1,000 flight hours.
Presently, Passenger Drone’s prototype is around the size of a car and can be folded to fit in a standard garage. It is capable of speeds of 70 km/h and has a flight time of approximately 20-25 minutes. This is due to the 16 electric motors, each connected to an individual rotor, and its lightweight carbon-fibre composition. The electric motors mean that the drone produces no emissions; however there is no official information on the drone’s batteries or how long it would take to reach full charge. Apart from the main power cables, the drone is connected via fibre-optics, rather than traditional wiring, which should make it more responsive, more secure, and safer.
The drone sports a touch-screen control panel whereby the user can simply select their destination and the vehicle will take over. Utilising what the company calls “remote telemetry capability”, the vehicle can send information in real time over a 4G network. This connection enables the drone to receive local air traffic information, immersive 3D terrain data, and weather radar. The drone can also be monitored and controlled remotely, meaning that it can operate in any part of the world and still retain ground support. The autonomous nature eliminates the need for expert-level pilot training or for a dedicated remote controller. There will be an easy to use manual mode, if necessary, and the company promises that the drone will remain stable and manoeuvrable.
Evidently, Passenger Drone is trying to appeal to the average person, rather than a select group of aviation enthusiasts. It also seems particularly interested in appealing to commuters and travellers who typically fall foul of high levels of congestion. The company cites congestion as costing the US$300 billion each year, and suggests that Passenger Drone can help in reducing those costs. It also aligns itself with other companies also heading in the direction of VTOLs (Vertical Take-Off and Landing), such as Google, Daimler, and Uber, that are all looking to target the commercial market with personal and public aircraft.
However, the drone market is also competitive and is attracting big money – Google founder, Larry Page, has reportedly invested US$100 million into a start-up called Zee.Aero. Similar enterprises such as EHang and Airbus also exist. Volocopter, a German company, is working on a drone taxi service for Dubai. Indeed, the competitor took to the skies, with its own model, for a 5-minute unmanned test flight over the Gulf coast.
As well as competition, there are obstacles outwith the technology that could hinder the future success of Passenger Drone – like expense. According to reports on EHang’s 184 Drone, the model will cost approximately US$3o0,000, which would definitely out price the majority of consumers. Aside from competition and cost, safety and regulation of airspace will also be prominent issues that could ground Passenger Drone’s race for the skies.