If you’re tired of waiting for your flying car, don’t give up hope—new developments are moving fast, not just in Silicon Valley but in China and Europe as well. China’s eHang company, a drone manufacturer, recently released videos showing dozens of people going for a flight in its autonomous aerial vehicles. Both one-seat and two-seat versions are shown with smiling men and women on board, waving at the cameras. At least the one-seat vehicle appears to have control mechanisms in the cockpit, so it’s not clear if the flights are manually flown, autonomous, or remotely piloted. The eHang vehicles take off and land vertically, then transition to level flight, driven by eight propellers arrayed on four arms extending from each corner of the cabin.
At its website, eHang shows a tablet-like navigation device that apparently would enable the occupant to control the ship and plot a course by pointing at a destination on the map, and take off, land, or hover by tapping a virtual button. The ship can fly at up to 80 mph. It would be always in touch with a command center that would not allow it to fly in bad weather and could overrule any instructions from the onboard pilot. According to the website, the vehicle can operate in weather conditions up to a “Force 7 typhoon,” which could entail winds up to 38 mph.
Volocopter, the pioneering German company that has been developing its vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicle since 2012, flew it for the first time in the U.S. at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, in January. The aircraft flew briefly, unmanned and tethered, on stage during the keynote event. Volocopter also announced the vehicle had flown for the first time with a non-pilot passenger, taking Intel CEO Brian Krzanich for a short flight inside a hangar, with a remote pilot in charge. “That was the best flight I’ve ever had,” Krzanich said after landing. “Everybody will fly like this someday.”
In Silicon Valley, the secretive Zee Aero company, founded by Larry Page, a co-founder of Google, has revealed video of an unmanned two-seat aircraft taking off vertically from a runway, transitioning to level flight, flying at about 60 mph, and landing vertically. The video was shot in 2014, but its first public showing was in December on CNN. The company is now named Kitty Hawk and the air taxi under development is named Cora.
Airbus announced its A3 Vahana autonomous electric aircraft flew for the first time, in Oregon, in late January. The aircraft is a tiltrotor, with an array of propellers that enable the ship to take off vertically, then rotate to provide thrust for level flight. The project began just two years ago, and Airbus says they intend to have a working prototype flying by 2020.