Chinese company EHang has been granted permission for its 184 model drones to partake in test flights over Nevada by the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems.
The test flights will test whether the technology works and if trials prove successful, the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems will submit a report to the Federal Aviation Authority to try and make drone taxis a reality.
EHang’s drones take one passenger at a time and are controlled autonomously when a passenger inputs his or her destination into a touchscreen computer inside the flying machine.
The prototype drone, which was on show at CES in Las Vegas at the beginning of the year, measures over 1.2m tall, weighs 200kg and has eight propellers to help it take off. It can take the weight of one passenger and will fly for 23 minutes at a speed of around 60mph, making it a pretty fast way of getting around in clogged areas.
“I personally look forward to the day when drone taxis are part of Nevada’s transportation system,” the institute’s business development director, Mark Barker, told local the Las Vegas Review Journal.
However, there are concerns from others about the safety of the drones. Some critics think drones in general need to be more thoroughly tested before they can be rolled out commercially, while others argue there needs to be some kind of passenger over-ride feature should they go wrong.
In the case of the 184 drone, EHang says its machine will land in the safest available place should something go wrong, although it hasn’t gone into detail about how this will happen if there’s a major system failure or loss of power, for example.
The drones are expected to retail for between £140,000 and £200,000 each, making a fleet of these taxis a lot more expensive than the average taxi fleet.