By Jim Redwine
(Week of 20 March 2017)
MARY POPPINS REVISITED
While not an umbrella, the EHang184 Autonomous Aerial Vehicle promises vertical take off and landing. The oval shaped 440-pound plastic egg made in China will be available for you and your one 16-inch carryon bag starting this July.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Royal Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, decreed that by the year 2030 he wants at least 25% of passenger traffic in Dubai to be via autonomous vehicles. He did not decree a price per trip but since my young friend Andy Minnette was charged $100.00 about ten years ago there for the privilege of riding an elevator to the top of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, I presume we’re not talking rickshaw prices.
According to the propaganda sheet from EHang, there will be no need for a license or special training. If one weighs 220 pounds or less he or she would just throw in a bag, lock the dome of the 18-foot long device, punch in a destination and push a button. Then it’s, Jetsons here we come!
The E184 can travel 60 miles an hour and fly for 23 minutes on one electrical charge. It has four legs with 2 rotors on each leg, is 5 feet in maximum height and has what EHang asserts is a “failsafe system” that is also constantly monitored from a “control center”. The occupant has no way to escape, e.g., parachute out.
The cost appears to me to be rather in flux. EHang says for a mere $200,000 to $300,000 you can be the proud owner of this glorious egg. It does fold up and can be parked in a regular parking space or outside your mansion.
Autonomous automobiles are about the only analogous vehicles for comparison. As of March 08, 2017 Uber reported its 43 unmanned cars, which by the way are manned by an operator, averaged less than one mile of driving before a human had to take over to avoid an “incident”. If you should have such an “incident” 500 feet in the air in your E184, “Good Luck!”, as they say in Las Vegas.
Now, I am not a Luddite. I like technology such as Cable TV and air conditioning. However, in Posey County, Indiana it might be somewhat premature to ask the County Commissioners and County Council for a Circuit Court EHang 184. After all, the last time I arrived at the stoplight in New Harmony when there was more than one other vehicle was during the Christmas parade. As for the Mt. Vernon intersection of Fourth and Main by the Courthouse, I did have to wait almost 10 seconds once last week. Maybe Dubai is busier.
Another concern I have with the use of the EHang 184 was raised by its announcement being accompanied by solicitations for financing options and available life insurance plans. However, my true reluctance was caused by the companion article from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that cautioned it was already developing guidelines and hiring thousands of high school dropouts for strip searching anyone who wishes to fly in an EHang 184.
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