When it comes to urban mobility, most people think of ride-sharing, whether it be by cars, bikes or, increasingly, scooters. However, advances in electric propulsion, autonomous flight technology and 5G communication will soon see the skies alive with machines that can carry things and people.
At the frontier of this change in the way cities move is a very interesting company that has decided to make its hometown of Guangzhou into the world’s capital of Urban Air Mobility: Ehang.
The Autonomous Aerial Vehicle (AAV) company announced today that it has chosen Guangzhou as its first unmanned air mobility (UAM) pilot city globally for the establishment of a low-altitude aviation transportation network that will shuttles passengers and goods in a safe, fast, environmentally friendly, cost-efficient and intelligent way.
As part of the pilot program, EHang will work with the citygovernment to set up a command-and-control centerto ensure that multiple AAVs flying simultaneously in the city can remain in the air in a safe and efficient manner and can swiftly respond to emergencies.The center will be in charge of centralized real-time monitoring, command and dispatching, and cluster networking.Ehang will be involved in helping Guangzhou build up the basic infrastructure by designing safety rules and market entry thresholds.
On the passenger front,EHang envisions its eVTOL aircraft serving as air taxis. The company said it will use its pilot program in Guangzhou, a city of nearly 15 million people, to test flight routes and “vertiports” in practical scenarios before moving into commercial passenger-carrying operations.To date, it has safely conducted over 2000 flight tests inside and outside China to ensure that AVVs operate safely, even in harsh weather conditions.
Ehang is already looking beyond air taxi operations to cargo applications. The companyhas conducted commercial operations in air cargo transportation over the past two years in and near its home base in Guangzhou, working with leading express delivery company DHL-Sinotrans and retail company Yonghui.Using its Falcon drone, EHang said it has reduced the delivery time for an eight-kilometer trip from 40 to eight minutes, resulting in significant cost savings.
Based on that practical experience in carrying out a regular operation of UAV logistics, EHang will expand the area covered by UAV logistics with larger distribution scope and more complete distribution items.
Ehang plans to work with more partners to expand operations across more areas in Guangzhou andtransport a wider variety of high-value low-weight goods, including blood and organs for emergency medical use.
Hu Huazhi, EHang’s founder, chairman and CEO, said: “We are very excited about exploring the various meaningful ways in which AAVs can solve some of the stresses thatour congested cities face. We are in conversations with other cities, not just in China, to develop safe, efficient and affordable autonomous air transportation.”
The Guangzhou launch builds on EHang’s successful achievement of several milestones in the UAM space since its ground-breaking passenger-grade AAV was introduced at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to much fanfare.
In January this year, EHang was picked by the Civil Aviation Administration of China as the country’s first and only pilot company for passenger AAV development. Its AAV took its first global public pre-programmed flights, carrying a total of 17 passengers in successive flights, in Vienna in April.
Guangzhou’s Vice Mayor Chen Zhiying said: “Guangzhou is one of the four transportation hubs in the Greater Bay Area. The city has always been very accommodating to innovation, which provides EHang with the perfect ecosystem to build out a smart UAM market.”
Congestion has become a top issue for many of the world’s biggest cities, including Guangzhou, but based on demand for modes of transportation that are faster than ground transportation and cheaper than helicopters, EHang is developing solutions for the last-mile challenge.