The Lede, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018
By David Royse
Well, yesterday Elon Musk shot a car up into space. Meanwhile, in China, they were taking the whole flying car thing in a much more practical direction. A company that has made flying taxis demonstrated one actually carrying passengers in Guangzhou. Good job, United States – we have a Tesla in orbit. The Chinese have a quicker way to work.
Ehang Intelligence Technology Co. Ltd., a Guangzhou-based company founded four years ago, released footage yesterday showing its passenger-carrying drone, the Ehang 184, taking people on rides through the Chinese sky.
Among the 40 or so passengers who went for rides were a deputy mayor of the city, and the founder and CEO of the company, meant to show confidence in his own creation’s safety. According to Chinese and international press accounts, all seemed to go well.
The drone has eight propellers and can carry one or two passengers up to about 220 pounds for 25 minutes, before the vehicle has to recharge its batteries. The vehicle can operate autonomously, with a destination programmed into its computer, or can actually be controlled by a passenger.
OK – I write about flying cars here from time to time, but as you’ll see from the video, what this really is, is a very small helicopter. The beauty, and utility, of course, is that it can fly itself so you don’t need a pilot.
Without further ado, let’s go to the video.
The flights on Tuesday weren’t actually the first. The company’s been testing it more quietly for some time, but it’s not clear how many times it had carried passengers before, and what problems may have arisen that had to be fixed. The company says the craft has taken off and landed hundreds of times up to now.
Ehang’s founder says the drone has even been flown in a typhoon to test its sturdiness – which you can see some of in the video.
There’s little information out there I could find on exactly how far from mass use this might be. “We hope that we could attract more dealers and partners in 2018,” the company’s founder says on the video. “And with their help we could show our EHANG 184 to people all around the world.”
They just have.
I wrote here about a month ago about where this same effort is in the United States. Bell Helicopters showed off its Air Taxi at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, but it was done virtually. No public rides for humans have been given. But the company says it hopes to be testing air taxis with Uber in the Dallas-Fort Worth area by 2020.
Airbus is also working on a very similar helicopter-like passenger drone – and just coincidentally recently announced test flight results. But as you can see, it’s far behind Ehang.
Actually, it might not end up being Americans in a race against the Chinese to see who is in business to give rides first. Ehang wants to operate globally, including in the United States.
Who knows what the rule and law makers in Washington and the states will do when people start flying around in drones.
One thing I’m pretty certain of after years of covering issues in state legislatures. They likely won’t do much until people do start flying around. Rarely do governments proactively regulate, which many would argue is a good thing – why would you regulate things that aren’t causing problems? That just stifles innovation. I’ve been keeping a cursory eye out, but haven’t seen any proposed passenger drone legislation in any of the states – if you have, please email me.
But at some point, if people are buzzing all around the low-altitude air space, the suits are going to step in. So far, all the regulation is about UNMANNED aircraft. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures 41 states have drone laws, but they’re all for unmanned (un-personed? it’s 2018) drones.
I suppose when the first laws are created – it will be a PILOT PROJECT.
There are some interesting drone laws out there.
Florida prohibits possession or operation of a weaponized drone (good idea).
Indiana has one of the strangest – but it seems like a good idea if this is really a problem: it has a “sex offender unmanned aerial vehicle offense,” which is when a sex offender uses a drone to follow, contact, or capture images or recordings of someone.
Minnesota has a budget line item spending money on the use of drones to monitor moose population. (Hey Rocky, what’s that up there in the sky? Is that another flying squirrel or is that Boris and Natasha in a remote control plane?)
And this one kind of makes me chuckle. In New Jersey, there’s a drunk droning law. You can’t operate a drone there if you have a BAC of .08 or higher. (If you’re going to drink, get a designated drone flyer).
FALCON HEAVY FOLLOW
Meanwhile, in the U.S., as mentioned before, we sent a red Tesla roadster carrying a mannequin up into orbit yesterday. Or Elon Musk and SpaceX did. It was pretty cool, if a bit overly goofy. I picture Gene Kranz, the tough flat-topped NASA flight director played by Ed Harris in Apollo 13, wondering what the hell that was all about.
But, Musk has argued, that was part of the point. His stunt has people talking a lot about space, and Mars, today, doesn’t it?
And Musk’s take on the absurdity of it gives us our ….
QUOTE OF THE DAY
ELON MUSK: “It’s kind of silly and fun, but I think that silly, fun things are important … I think the imagery of it is something that’s going to get people excited around the world, and it’s still tripping me out. I’m tripping balls here.” Musk, quoted in Space.com
“The opioid epidemic has devastated Alabama families, leaving a trail of addiction and death winding though every community of this state. Alabama ranks first in the nation for the number of painkiller prescriptions per capita. As a result, it is estimated that almost 30,000 of our residents over age 17 are dependent upon heroin and prescription painkillers…. It will take years to undo the damage but an important first step we must take is to hold the parties responsible for this epidemic legally liable for the destruction they have unleashed upon our citizens.” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall.
ON THE ROAD – WHAT’S UP WITH YOUR COMMUTE TODAY
FlightStats is reporting delays all over the East Coast and back across the Appalachians as a huge band of rain and snow moves through that area. Some of the worst delays late this morning were at Laguardia (LGA), Philly (PHL) (so much for Fly Eagles Fly), Newark (EWR), BWI (BWI), Reagan (DCA), Columbus (CMH), Cincinnati (CVG), Charlotte (CLT), Orlando (MCO), and of course, as usual, Hartsfield (ATL), and O’Hare (ORD).
LA is the most congested U.S. city. In fact, according to a new study from Inrix, it’s the most congested city IN THE WORLD! Come on Ehang – they need you in LA.
NOTES FROM THE AGE OF DISRUPTION:
Earnings This Week:
Yelp reports today. Twitter reports earnings on Thursday.
Snap’s stock is up after beating expectations on the street with smaller loss than expected. CNBC
Disney reports mixed earnings, but a full project pipeline. NYT
Tomorrow, I’ll be reporting from the Chicago Auto Show, hoping to bring you stories of all kinds of new things in the way we’ll all get around in the future.
Meantime, have a good Wednesday, and if you know someone else who likes reading about cool new ideas, things, and companies, forward this email to them so they can subscribe too.
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