Latest news in pilotless planes & self-driving cars

Pilotless planes and driverless cars are much talked about, but are still largely thought of as far off futuristic concepts in passenger transport.

But we saw two important moves forward this month, that take autonomous transportation to a new stage of development.

‘Drone air taxi’ given clearance for testing

Firstly the world’s first passenger drone was given clearance for testing in Nevada, US.

The aircraft, called the Ehang 184, was first unveiled at technology show CES in Las Vegas back in January and is the brainchild of drone manufacturer Ehang, based in the Guangzhou province of southern China.

Ehang 184

Image: Ehang Inc.

Now the company has partnered with the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS) and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (Goed) to be guided through the FAA’s testing and regulatory process.

The Ehang 184 – dubbed a ‘drone taxi’ – will hold one passenger and take off vertically, flying for up to 23 minutes at an altitude of 3.5km (11,500 feet) and speeds of up to 100km/h. The electric aircraft will take around 2 hours to charge and is powered by eight propellors, on four arms.

While stepping into a drone taxi is still likely to be many years away, entering the FAA’s testing process is a sign that the aviation authorities are taking this concept very seriously.

Rolls-Royce unveils its first driverless car

Rolls-Royce driverless Vision Next 100_1

Back down to earth, much talk of self-driving cars have been in the frame for some time now, with Google, Nissan and others working on concept vehicles. Volvo has also announced a testing project will take place on London’s roads next year.

But when peerless luxury automobile brand Rolls-Royce announces its own driverless concept – as it did in London just this week – it certainly makes everyone sit up and listen.

The manufacturer celebrated its centenary year by unveiling its zero-emission Vision Next 100 (codenamed 103EX), a sleek 5.6m long driverless car concept, aimed at the very top end of the luxury market.

Rolls-Royce driverless Vision Next 100_interior

Rather than the traditional chauffeur at the helm, passengers will give their destination to an AI assistant called Eleanor (named after the actress Eleanor Thornton who inspired the brand’s Spirit of Ecstacy icon). The spacious interior will include a textured ivory ‘throne’ and deep pile carpet. On arrival, a glass roof will rise to allow the occupant to stand, with a ‘red carpet’ light projection from the running board.

It’s a high concept indeed and is proving to be attention-grabbing stuff. The company says it is aiming to bring the car to the streets in the 2040s.

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