It is a taxi. It is flying. And it's not a futuristic dream. An unmanned electric two-seater drone from the Chinese company EHANG has taken off this Thursday in Vienna in its first presentation to the press in Europe.
The EHang 216 takes off vertically driven by 16 propellers, has a flight range of 35 kilometers, reaches a speed of 130 kilometers per hour and costs about 300,000 euros.
The managers of the Chinese company want to substantially reduce this cost when the device is produced in series with the help of its partner, the Austrian aerospace company FACC.
"From the New York airport to Manhattan, a helicopter ride costs 800 dollars, while taking a taxi is worth between 70 and 85 dollars and takes between one and two hours, depending on traffic," explained FACC president Robert Machtlinger. .
The objective is that the flight taxi ride is just as fast as a helicopter but costs only between 50 and 85 dollars, the same as a taxi, Machtlinger confided in a press conference.
Derrick Xiong, co-founder of EHang, said that this ship aims to revolutionize urban mobility by moving from the two dimensions of land transport to three of air travel.
"We have done thousands of tests in the past few years to ensure safety, both with and without crew members, in different atmospheric conditions," he said.
For Xiong, the biggest challenge is not technology or air regulation, but "change the mentality" so that people perceive that flying in a drone "is safe and cheap".
Austrian Transport Minister Norbert Hofer did not hide his enthusiasm for this technology, which he described as "clean and efficient", and said the EHang 216 is safer and less noisy than a helicopter.
"With this drone you can travel very fast from the center of Vienna to the surroundings, it is electric, clean and safe," the minister said, and promised to promote as soon as possible a regulatory framework for these autonomous taxis.
"Years ago there was talk of mobility with helicopters, but they are noisy and expensive, this drone is silent, cheap and requires almost no infrastructure," Hofer added.
To change the public's perception of the safety of these drones, EHang today organized test flights for press representatives in the Generali Arena football stadium in Vienna for the first time in the world.
These drones operate autonomously and the passenger must only select a predetermined destination – for example, from the stop of the taxi-dron to the airport- so that the vehicle takes off, flies away and leaves it in the chosen place.
Both the route and the height of the flight must be agreed by the civil aviation authorities and the company once there is regulation, according to EHang sources.
The entire journey is done autonomously, but is supervised by personnel who intervene if there is any problem.
The short range of these vehicles is due to the capacity of the batteries, which can be recharged in an hour, but as the technology improves, the capacity to carry more passengers and weight will increase.
Machtlinger, meanwhile, was convinced that autonomous air mobility will come before the terrestrial, because it is a completely new sector below 300 meters high.
"Autonomous flight will be possible before autonomous driving, because, unlike road traffic, it develops completely new," he summarized.
What seems certain is that this type of mobility will reach China sooner than anywhere else, according to Xiong.
"The civil aviation administration of China is strongly supporting this technology," he told Efe.
As an example, he explained that EHang is already developing with the Chinese authorities the certification standards of the sector.
In the test conducted on the turf of the Generali Arena the ship ascended about 15 meters above the ground, planned for a few seconds and landed again in the center of the field.
"The sensation of flight is better than that of a helicopter, more stable and silent," explained Christian Bruna, photographer of the European Pressphoto Agency -participated by Efe- who made a test flight with the drone.
"I felt like in 'Star Wars': you close the gate and the ship takes off without you doing anything," the reporter described the sensation of flying in an autonomous device.
On the downside, the small size of the cabin made even a two-minute flight an uncomfortable experience.
"I could not sit up straight because of the lack of space and I had to tilt my head," said Bruna, who measures 196 centimeters.