Flying taxi, no pilot, yours for a cool R4.7m
As carmakers push ahead with self-driving vehicles, an Austrian aerospace company and its Chinese partner showed off their pilotless "flying taxi" for the first time in Europe on Thursday.
The drone's 16 propellers hummed loudly as it rose above the pitch at Vienna's Generali Arena, home to soccer club Austria Wien. The slim aircraft, which weighs 340kg, circled in the air briefly and came down within a few minutes.
The EHang 216, which can seat two passengers, has been tested comprehensively and is essentially ready for mass production, said Derrick Xiong, co-founder of Chinese drone maker EHang.
Joining the race for new autonomous aircraft services that do not require runways, EHang last year entered a partnership with Austria's FACC, owned by Chinese aerospace group AVIC, aiming to offer short-haul services for passengers, industrial equipment and urgent medical deliveries.
The drone can fly at up to 150km/h for "almost half an hour" and for "between 50km and 70km" depending on the payload, FACC CEO Robert Machtlinger said.
FACC says it had received several thousand orders for the $336,000 (R4.7m) drone, with the highest demand in China.
Competitors working towards offering autonomous flying cars early in the next decade range from aerospace giant Airbus to Uber and AeroMobil.
"Technically . urban mobility, flying without a pilot is possible, it's not a dream, it's existing," said Machtlinger. "What is hindering us to go into larger volumes is regulation."