World's first passenger drone makes maiden flight in China

Floating vehicles zooming seemingly unhindered by gravity between skyscrapers used to be in the exclusive realm of science fiction. 

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But the dream of flying over traffic is now closer to reality. The world’s first passenger drone, the EHang 184, made its debut public flight on Tuesday. Once passengers get into the small cabin and fasten their seat belts, the automated flight system takes over. 

“All the traditional flying vehicles cannot achieve the goal of fully autonomous flying, so it’s still far away from being used in daily commuting,” said Hu Huazhi, CEO of EHang, the drone’s Chinese manufacturer. 

Tuesday’s flight means the scenes that used to exist only in sci-fi movies "are now very close to common people,” Hu added.

EHang says the vehicle runs on electric batteries. It can carry one person weighing up to 100 kilograms at a time. The drone can cruise at an altitude of 500 meters and fly at a maximum speed of 100 kilometers per hour for 25 minutes.

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The company says the drone’s been tested over a thousand times and is designed to withstand moderate gales with winds of up to 50 kilometers per hour. But the biggest concern remains safety. 

“We have special fail-safe systems that take over in the event of malfunctions, plus passengers can get the drone to stop and hover in place if needed," said Hu. "I believe this year we could get flying permits in 80 percent of the countries and regions around the world.”

Last year, the city of Dubai announced a plan to cooperate with EHang to develop self-flying taxis taking people across the city. 

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Experts say self-flying vehicles can greatly reduce traffic congestion down the road and what’s more important is that they can be used for city services like emergency rescue.

EHang said the final commercial product will fly into the market, possibly within a year.