Ehang flew its autonomous octocopter with two passengers for the first time in public in Austria on Saturday and the company said the aircraft is now ready for mass production. The Ehang 216 hovered briefly in a soccer stadium Apr. 4 in Vienna with a small contingent of press in attendance. “This is not a drone,” a company spokesman said in a video release. “It’s an AAV, an autonomous aero vehicle.” Nomenclature notwithstanding, the aircraft was pilotless but it’s not clear if it flew on internal guidance or whether it was remotely controlled.
In practice, passengers would climb aboard, punch a destination into the panel and their work would be over. Using 5G wireless technology, the aircraft would fly itself to the destination and take care of separation from other aircraft and objects. There will be two navigation systems on each aircraft, each capable of taking over from the other in case of a failure. The 216 will sell for about $350,000 and the company is claiming “thousands” of orders, most of them in China.