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

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 …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

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

    It is also said to be capable of carrying a 120kg payload.

    Well, forget about me then.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

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

      It is also said to be capable of carrying a 120kg payload.

      Sadly, I was thinking the same thing.

      Actually, scratch that - I can still just make it if I fly in the buff. Would that be legal in London?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

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

        Actually, scratch that - I can still just make it if I fly in the buff. Would that be legal in London?

        You could always claim it is a rather unusual pitot tube :)

    2. DropBear

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

      I think I might be okay on this, only just, but the safety margin is practically nil...

      1. Andy the ex-Brit

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

        I'd just about be able to make it under that flying with my 16-year-old son. I don't think I would do it, though. My elder son is currently studying to be a commercial pilot, so I think I'll wait to fly with him.

      2. Toltec

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

        On a good day, providing I have used the toilet and not eaten breakfast yet...

        On the up side I need the exercise so ought to walk anyway.

        1. Scroticus Canis
          Holmes

          Re: used the toilet and not eaten breakfast yet...

          Way too much information.....

      3. Cynic_999 Silver badge

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

        "

        ... but the safety margin is practically nil...

        "

        The quoted maximum will almost certainly include a safety margin.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

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

          Yes, but any sustained shaking and gyrating of the payload mass could severely tax that margin.

    3. fishman

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

      My wife and I could go together - if we were naked.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up

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

        > "My wife and I could go together..."

        There's an old Damaskas song about Subaru cars that fits this situation very snugly...*

        * Subaru's in those days were tiny indeed.

      2. Oengus

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

        fishman, My wife and I could go together - if we were naked.

        And with a ceiling of 10000 ft you could join the "mile high" club...

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: My wife and I could go together - if we were naked.

        Welcome to the 1.893939 mile high club! Hope you're very flexible.

    4. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Flame

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

      I might, but I sometimes waver on the edge of a deathwish, as long as it's spectacular and involves flames

      "Flying Car" - queue Jetsons theme - "Meet George Jetson... Jane his wife..." etc.

      icon because

  2. Francis Boyle

    Re the headline

    I refer you to Betteridge.

  3. SkippyBing

    Does it have some sort of parachute in case of a total electrical failure?

    If you want to ask them a tricky question ask if the rotor blades can alter in pitch to allow it to make an auto-rotative landing.

    If they answer no to both those questions. Then no.

    1. Lee D

      I don't think you want to be parachuting out of a low-altitude quadcopter that's still in motion.

      That's not even a Bond stunt, that's just suicide.

      1. tony72

        Why is that? Serious question, I have no clue about parachuting. But this thing claims an altitude of up to 10000ft, and Google says you can typically deploy a parachute down to 2000 feet, or even 700 feet for a reserve chute. So to the non-expert at least, it looks like there's parachute potential from an altitude standpoint. Presumably you'd have some sort of break-glass-to-access emergency button that would stop the rotors if you wanted to bail out, so you wouldn't get diced. As long as you have the altitude, it seems like it could work.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I used to fly a microlight with a whole aircraft recovery system, which is basically a parachute that is deployed by a rocket when you pull the big red handle. These systems are light enough that there's no real issue with fitting one to a man carrying drone. The rocket deployment means that they can be activated at relatively low level, with recorded 'saves' from as low as 30 metres. Presumably on a semi- autonomous drone you would remove the human 'oh s**t, what should i do?' reaction time. The computer would realise safe flight was no longer an option and fire the chute. The chutes have steel bridles to minimise the 'chopped' by prop issue, but again, fairly simple to automate the 'cut power when chute fires' option.

          So actually, you could probably make a fairly safe one man drone, although there would always be a bit of vulnerability at landing and takeoff. You could presumably design a nice honeycomb impact structure or add airbags to soften the crunch. It wouldn't be airline safe, but then not many things are..Maybe not even car safe, but removing the human from the loop you ought to get to microlight levels of safety, which are fairly acceptable to quite a few members of the human race.

    2. imanidiot Silver badge

      Props are fixed pitch. So no auto rotation (and they're to small to work for autorotation anyway.)

      The best you could hope for is a ballistic parachute system. But given the diminutive size and weight of this thing I doubt it's equipped with one.

      So thats a HELL NO, from me.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I expect no parachute on the grounds of weight limits but it is quite possible that the seat cover could be reused as a body bag. Anyway, how would you get out of a doomed drone without being blended by the rotors?

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        I expect no safety systems at all, because China.

        No, I would not get in one.

      2. SkippyBing

        'Anyway, how would you get out of a doomed drone without being blended by the rotors?

        Oh I meant a parachute for the whole thing, like the Cirrus SR20 light aircraft has. Actually that might make it useful for dropping stores out the back of a C-130, maybe they should just go for that line...

    4. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese

      RE: Parachute

      Parachuting from a rotor-driven craft sounds scary, with or without a parachute.

      "In the event of an engine failure, don your parachute and exit the craft. Chop-chop!"

      1. YARR
        Black Helicopters

        Re: Parachute

        The idea is that you jump first and fall faster than the 'copter, then deploy the parachute when you're a safe distance. OTOH if you want an ejector seat with parachute, they can make the rotors eject before you do (they fly off at a tangent and slice into the ground or whoever is standing in the way).

        I were flying at 10,000ft and the LiPos started smoking, I'd choose a parachute and jump, then be a he-hang.

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Parachute

          It's more likely that the parachute would be attached to the copter and not the passenger. There are general aviation aircraft (small planes) with emergency parachutes. One company tests their new designs at a drop zone a couple of miles from my house.

  4. Steve K Silver badge

    With the 120Kg max payload, anyone with the balls to get in to one of these would need a second drone to carry them....

  5. Rafael #872397
    Paris Hilton

    ...get into the drone when it arrives,...

    Just out of curiosity, will it arrive in the middle of the street? At the sidewalk? At the nearest helipad or airport? Will it let me out where I want to be or at the "nearest convenient location", several kilometers away?

    1. imanidiot Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: ...get into the drone when it arrives,...

      It's won't let you out. Or land for that matter Unless you pay the additional disembarkation fee. Better pay before the batteries run out!

      1. DNTP

        Re: It won't let you out. Or land...

        Let me tell you a story of a man named Charlie:

        Every day his wife goes to Kendall Square with a potato cannon and fires a sandwich straight up in the air so Charlie can catch it as the drone he is condemned to ride for eternity passes overhead. Moral of the story: Don't use Paypal because they'll randomly lock your account mid-flight and then you can't pay the landing fee.

        1. Simon Harris

          Re: It won't let you out. Or land...

          I remember when I was a kid being scared out my wits by a Spanish film about a telephone box that lured people in and wouldn't let them go...

          http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0065513

          It could easily be updated to taxi drones!

          1. David 18

            Re: It won't let you out. Or land...

            Oh I remember that one, seem to remember it being rather good.

        2. Nick Kew

          Re: It won't let you out. Or land...

          as the drone he is condemned to ride for eternity passes overhead.

          Heh. The original Flying Dutchman wasn't literally airborne.

    2. Swiss Anton

      Re: ...get into the drone when it arrives,...

      "nearest convenient location", several kilometers away?"

      Depends, is it operated by Ryan?

    3. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: ...get into the drone when it arrives,...

      I wonder if you can adopt the 5th Element approach? Could be cool stepping out of 95th floor windows wearing nothing but masking tape.

      Not that that would bring me down to 120kg...

      1. Simon Harris

        Re: ...masking tape

        An option that may work better on Milla Jovovich than me.

        An Elastoplast is bad enough- don't want to be ripping out all my body hair every time I get undressed!

    4. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: ...get into the drone when it arrives,...

      "Will it let me out where I want to be or at the "nearest convenient location", several kilometers away?"

      Like "London Oxford" Airport, in Kidlington, about 100km away from London, and a similar distance away from Birmingham and Bristol. Also 15km outside Oxford.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "The communication is encrypted and each AAV has its independent key."

    Something doesn't seem right with that statement.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Darwin

    I expect these things will be fairly pricey to buy or operate.

    This will add to the data available as to whether wealth and intelligence are linked.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Darwin

      Exactly! And if there's an app, and this becomes an airborne Uber, then this is potentially a means to cleanse us of urban hipsters. I don't think they count as any particular ethnicity, so it wouldn't be a problem with international courts. And with ever more clogged roads, but more driver assistance technologies, the fire brigade will need something to do:

      "Special Service call, Old Kent Road near junction with Mandela Way. Another urban hipster + drone scrape up and hose down. Southwark council say to put the meat in an orange sack at the kerbside, and it'll be collected overnight".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: urban hipsters

        Maybe they could try using the tail rotor as a beard trimmer...

  8. imanidiot Silver badge

    Minor nitpick

    That's 8 motors, and 8 props! (It's a coaxial octocopter meaning there's a tractor prop above anda pusher prop below each boom.)

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Minor nitpick

      Do they do that just to increase the noise levels?

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Minor nitpick

        Probably to leave a gap between the rotors for mounting and dismounting. You need 8 rotors to have a modicum of engine out capability (6 rotors allows semi controlled flight without yaw authority for a "one out", 8 rotors allows full albeit reduced control in a "one out" and depending on which engines possibly limited controllability in a 2 out scenario)

  9. Simon Harris

    Name...

    I assume this air taxi will Ehang in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't.

  10. Lysenko

    Military use !?

    With 120kg payload? A single AGM-114 ("Hellfire II") clocks in at about 50kg. Maybe you could fly dehydrated meals around in it, but it's never going to be a credible weapons platform with that capacity.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Are you feeling lucky,? Are you?

      Hmm, i'm not entirely sure that staring down the wrong end of 2 Hellfire missiles is going to make my day.

      1. DropBear
        Trollface

        Re: Are you feeling lucky,? Are you?

        "We're here to evacuate you, but due to the payload limit we have to get rid of the two missiles first. Now stay still, this won't hurt at all!"

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As terrifying as it sounds, if it's cheap enough and is allowed to land anywhere this would be an amazing way to get around traffic. It can carry 18st 12lb too which is surprising - things like this can usually only lift particularly slim gerbils.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "if it's cheap enough and is allowed to land anywhere this would be an amazing way to get around traffic."

      Can't comment on the cost but you're not allowed to land a helicopter "anywhere" because of the risk to the general public of getting landed on and/or diced by the rotors.

      I can't see a single good reason to allow an air vehicle like this to be operated differently to a helicopter. i.e. you'll need a piece of privately owned land with controlled access to ensure you don't kill anyone with your toy, or you can take it to an airport/airfield like everyone else.

    2. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Its very unlikely that this would be allowed to land 'anywhere' thats not an airfield. Just for starters, there are no guards on the rotors, which look to be at just the right height to chop unwary adults off at the knee and decapitate dogs and small children.

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        and decapitate dogs and small children.

        Every cloud has a silver lining.

  12. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    Stupid flying machines

    I saw half of a documentary about the US jetpack prototypes they were playing with in the late 50s / early 60s. Firstly with rockets, then they built a little jet.

    Obviously they had very limited fuel. As if you put too much weight in, it was impossible to stand up.

    So as a stunt, they decided to fly across Niagra Falls. But, running out of fuel halfway across is bad. So this guy worked out a brilliant wheeze to give him more time. He'd step off the cliff at the same time he turned his motors on.

    So I've seen the footage of him confidently stepping out, sinking ten feet, then hovering away happily.

    Of course, there isn't any footage of him stepping out confidently, then the thing failing to start up, and him plummeting to his death. He was either awfully confident in the machinery, or insanely brave.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Stupid flying machines

      there isn't any footage of him stepping out confidently, then the thing failing to start up, and him plummeting to his death

      Or perhaps there isn't any released footage of the event?

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Stupid flying machines

      Peroxide and a catalyst - it either works or works too well, I'd bet he was pretty confident.

  13. Paul Herber Silver badge

    Still from a vid on the vendor's website

    Something here reminds me of Futurama.

  14. Chris G Silver badge

    Badge

    Might I suggest that as a company logo, they adopt a Beagle?

    1. hplasm
      Happy

      Re: Badge

      Yes, I think the logo should be a Beagle II... er, too.

  15. Richard Gray 1
    Go

    I would use it..

    After many taxi journeys is several countries I would definitely prefer this to a local "driving licence through the post" driver.

    I was genuinely told that as long as you can see the back wheels you have enough stopping distance. And most of the time you couldn't see the back wheels, all at around 60MPH.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Naysayers. Give it a few years and it'll be fine and after all you'd get in a helicopter wouldn't you?

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      It won't be fine after a few years. Because it only generates lift through having a working engine. Helicopters can autorotate, and on loss of power get limited lift from their rotors on the way down - this will just plummet. Planes have wings.

      Now admittedly there aren't too many people who've successfully done a Chesley Sullenberger, and put their engine-less plane down successfully in the middle of a city. But at least if you can glide, you get to decide whether to crash in the park, rather than the housing estate. Often you can do better than that.

      Helicopters are very restriced in their operations by the way. Because they are a lot more dangerous than planes, or most other forms of transport. And that's why they're quite rarely used. There's only one place you're allowed to land them in London (which is Battersea) and you're only allowed to fly them over the Thames - because of how relatively frequently they crash.

      This is before we've even mentioned the madness of automatic pilot use in airspace that is designated see and avoid, and doesn't have air traffic control or flight corridors.

      It's a silly idea, even if they had technology that wasn't barely tested and hideously dangerous.

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      I only get in helicopters with a seasoned pilot that is still paranoid enough to run through the full checklist each time they plan to take off.

  17. chivo243 Silver badge
    Trollface

    Not until...

    the rotors are in a shroud... Something about Coles law?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Given the typical followup services of Chinese Engineering

    I would rather walk/cycle etc however a Chinese canal system in London would be something I WOULD ride, after all they have been running theirs for millennia

  19. Kay Burley ate my hamster

    It's only right that this is a death trap, it's at DSEI.

  20. fishman

    Birdstrikes

    Wonder what happens if you have a birdstrike and loose one prop. If it can't take that sort of situation it isn't safe enough. It doesn't have to keep flying as normal, it would just have to be able to set you down safely.

    1. Alister
      FAIL

      Re: Birdstrikes

      loose one prop

  21. AfternoonTea

    I can see a market in the near future for Podcopters©.

  22. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    It's OK folks...

    "A network operations centre will monitor these aircraft in case of trouble, we were told."

    Serious legal question: if your last words were "Spend every fucking penny of my estate on suing these bastards out of existence!!!!!!", would that be enforceable?

  23. grumbler

    Leadership

    Will the CEO of Ehang be the first to fly in it and also use it daily to commute?

    If not, then why would he expect anyone else to?

  24. Nimby
    Joke

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

    Absitively! Posolutely! I've got a wingsuit, a GoCam helmet and Playlist of "Flight of the Valkyries", "Danger Zone" and "Saints Row Theme" ready to rock. I've been briefed on how to safely escape and clear the vehicle before deceleration. Just give me an f'ing pretense ... I mean excuse. It's time to make some magic!

  25. erikborgo Bronze badge

    Emergency Escape Options?

    Does it have a parachute plus a backup parachute and an emergency mechanical override system so one could deploy it in case the automatic systems fail or if there's a Carrington Event level coronal mass ejection?

    If you could escape quickly wearing a parachute, maybe I'd consider it, given there is enough altitude for the parachute to function and some sort of springboard/compressed gas powered launchpad so one could avoid being sliced to confetti by the rotors.

  26. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Summoned to the Man

    You won't want to use one of these is you have a warrant. Besides needing to supply some sort of ID/electronic payment, they'd likely have facial recognition and if your presence is required to help with an enquiry, you will be landed inside a secure enclosure.

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