Tag: Drone

Ehang’s Passenger-Carrying Drones Look Insanely Impressive In First Test Flights

Two years ago, Chinese drone maker Ehang came to CES in Las Vegas and promised to build a completely autonomous, passenger-carrying quadcopter that would revolutionize mobility.

Many of us in the tech community chortled under our breath, wondering if such a thing was even possible, let alone advisable.

Today, the company released footage of its first piloted test flights in China — and color us impressed: this thing is no joke.

Ehang’s engineers put the quadcopter, dubbed the Ehang 184, through a battery of tests over the last several months, and with good measure.

The company conducted over 1,000 test flights with human passengers, including a 984-foot vertical climb, a weight test carrying over 500 pounds, a routed test flight covering 9.3 miles, and a high-speed cruising test that reached 80.7 mph.

Ehang’s engineers also tested the 184 in a variety of weather conditions, including high heat, heavy fog, night tests, and during a Category 7 typhoon with gale-force winds.

Clearly, it would seem that Ehang heard our skepticism after its first announcement and it aimed to respond with supporting data.

What we’re doing isn’t an extreme sport, so the safety of each passenger always comes first,” said Ehang founder and CEO Huazhi Hu in a statement.

Now that we’ve successfully tested the Ehang 184, I’m really excited to see what the future holds for us in terms of air mobility.”

The key word there is “mobility,” as it often is with these types of ventures. Ehang wants to put its egg-shaped, multirotor aircraft in use as an air taxi, shuttling passengers across dense urban environments.

The company has said it would demonstrate this service for Dubai’s World Government Summit later this month, but a spokesperson didn’t respond whether that was still the case.

Dubai is also working with Germany’s Volocopter on a similar air taxi service. If that doesn’t work, Ehang has permission from the state of Nevada to test the Ehang 184 at its FAA-approved UAV test site.

Ehang says the 184, which is all electric, can carry a single passenger up to 10 miles or roughly 23 minutes of flight. The person in the cockpit doesn’t do any piloting; they just input their destination and enjoy the ride.

The company claims its aircraft is able to take off autonomously, fly a route, sense obstacles, and land.

And if anything goes wrong, a human pilot is supposed to step in and take over the controls from a remote command station.

Ehang sees luxury rides for rich folks as the first phase of this new market, with autonomous aircraft becoming more widely available at lower prices after fleets and flight paths have become well established, and, of course, once the cost of having a human pilot around is eliminated.

Despite its early successful test flights, Ehang says it is making improvements to the aircraft.

More emphasis will be placed on improving passenger experience and on adding an option for manual control, giving passengers with piloting experience the choice to operate the vehicle manually.

In addition, the company has already developed and tested a two-seater with a payload of up to 617 pounds (280 kilograms).

Ehang has proven that its autonomous aerial vehicle can fly, which is no small feat.

But proving that it can scale up into a full-blown aerial taxi service is an entirely different challenge and something with which a number of giant, multibillion-dollar companies are currently wrestling.

There’s a vertical take-off and landing gold rush going on right now, and Ehang clearly wants to prove itself a major player.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

These Tree-Planting Drones Are About To Start An Entire Forest From The Sky

For the past five years, a group of villagers in the delta of the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar has painstakingly planted 2.7 million mangrove trees in an attempt to begin to restore an ecosystem that has been disappearing for decades.

But the work is laborious, and the local nonprofit guiding the work wants to cover a much larger area–so they’re now turning to tree-planting drones.

The drones, from the startup BioCarbon Engineering, can plant as many as 100,000 trees in a single day, leaving the local community to focus on taking care of the young trees that have already started to grow.

Last September, the company will begin a drone-planting program in the area along with Worldview International Foundation, the nonprofit guiding local tree-planting projects.

To date, the organization has worked with villagers to plant an area of 750 hectares, about twice the size of Central Park; the drones will help cover another 250 hectares with 1 million additional trees.

Ultimately, the nonprofit hopes to use drones to help plant 1 billion trees in an even larger area.

The drone technology works in stages. As a first step, mapping drones fly more than 300 feet over the land, collecting detailed data about the topography and soil quality.

An algorithm uses that data to choose the best locations to plant trees, and the best species to plant.

Next, a second group of drones, flying low over the ground, automatically follows the map to plant seeds in custom, nutrient-filled “seed pods” designed by plant scientists to support each species.

Each drone can carry a mix of different species simultaneously. The drones fire the pods quickly enough to penetrate the soil.

The process targets locations for planting a seed within centimeters. “We can modify what to plant, and where, so you have the highest chance of survival,” says Irina Fedorenko, co-founder of BioCarbon Engineering, who initially connected with the founder of Worldview International at a conference.

“If you do aerial spreading–you just spread seeds wherever–maybe they hit a rock, maybe they hit a swamp, and they’re not going to survive. But we can basically control for that.”

It’s technically possible for a single drone pilot to oversee six of the drones simultaneously, reaching the maximum of 100,000 plantings in a day, though drone regulations in some countries require a pilot for every drone, making the process slightly slower.

The drones are at least 10 times faster than humans planting trees by hand, while the process can cost half as much.

In the U.K., where the test plots have been in place for more than a year, the trees are showing good rates of survival.

“[Survival rates are] definitely much better than spreading from a helicopter, which many people use,” says Fedorenko. “In some species, it’s comparable with hand planting.

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Drone Race: Human Versus Artificial Intelligence

JPL engineers recently finished developing three drones and the artificial intelligence needed for them to navigate an obstacle course by themselves.

In October, NASA’s California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory pitted a drone controlled by artificial intelligence against a professional human drone pilot named Ken Loo.

According to NASA’s press release, it had been researching autonomous drone technology for the past two years at that point, funded by Google and its interest in JPL’s vision-based navigation work.

The race consisted of a time-trial where the lap times and behaviors of both the A.I.-operated drone and the manually-piloted drone were analyzed and compared. Let’s take a look at the results.

NASA said in its release that the company developed three drones; Batman, Joker, and Nightwing.

Researchers focused mostly on the intricate algorithms required to navigate efficiently through a race like this, namely obstacle avoidance and maximum speed through narrow environments.

These algorithms were then combined with Google’s Tango technology, which JPL had a significant hand in as well.

Task Manager of the JPL project, Rob Reid said, “We pitted our algorithms against a human, who flies a lot more by feel.”

“You can actually see that the A.I. flies the drone smoothly around the course, whereas human pilots tend to accelerate aggressively, so their path is jerkier.”

As it turned out, Loo’s speeds were much higher, and he was able to perform impressive aerial maneuvers to his benefit, but the A.I.-infused drones were more consistent, and never gave in to fatigue.

“This is definitely the densest track I’ve ever flown,” said Loo. “One of my faults as a pilot is I get tired easily. When I get mentally fatigued, I start to get lost, even if I’ve flown the course 10 times.”

Loo averaged 11.1 seconds per lap, while the autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles average 13.9 seconds.

In other words, while Loo managed to reach higher speeds overall, the drones operating autonomously were more consistent, essentially flying a very similar lap and route each time.

Our autonomous drones can fly much faster,” said Reid. “One day you might see them racing professionally!

Of that latter statement, there’s certainly no doubt.

A future where companies like Google and NASA square off in public arenas where their autonomous drones compete against one another is definitely plausible.

It wouldn’t be shocking to see such an event televised, either, as we’re already seeing similar results with the Drone Racing League.

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Pass it on: Popular Science