Drones: The future of flight?


Imagine crossing Cook Strait without any risk of being sea sick because you are not travelling on a ferry but in a drone.

A Chinese company that's developing a people carrying automated drone says it's not far-fetched.

The EHANG 184 is a one person drone and it's co-founder Derrick Xiong is here for the tripartite talks, between Auckland, Los Angeles and Guangzhou.

He says the people-carrying-drone project was sparked by the death of friend in a helicopter accident.

The idea is to have a much safer way to fly, where the passenger just sets the destination-- everything else is automated.

But will people trust the technology?

"I think the key is how much experiment, how much test we have been doing and what kind of data we can show people," says Mr Xiong.

Ehang already makes smaller drones and the company has grown from four staff two years ago to 300. It's now worth about $400 million.

Ehang also has its eye on New Zealand; it's talked to three companies about selling its low level drones here. It also says one day we could possibly see a passenger drone crossing the Cook Strait.

But the Cook Strait is about 22 kilometres wide and the drones current range is 30 kilometres.

"[We'll] do tonnes of tests until people believe in it, I am going to be the first one to get on there and be first to fly," says Mr Xiong.

First though Ehang is finalising another deal in America -- supplying drones to transport live organs to transplant patients, it's quicker than road or helicopter.

The drones are designed for people without any licence or training, from take-off to landing, throughout the whole piloting process -- it's all automatic.

How to regulate drones is already a headache for authorities, it seems Ehang will soon make it worse by proving its drone works in a public demonstration.