Chinese drone developer EHang last week announced that telecoms group Vodafone will provide connectivity for its family of autonomous electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. The German company has signed an exclusive agreement to fit EHang passenger and cargo Autonomous Aerial Vehicles (AAVs) operating in Europe with SIM cards to allow communications with EHang’s operational command-and-control centers and between aircraft.
“Each AAV requires digital connectivity to ensure the coordination of air traffic, so fast networks like 5G are critical to enabling, sustainable pilotless air travel and freight delivery systems,” said EHang founder, chairman and CEO Hu Huazhi. “5G is also a key infrastructure component for the commercial deployment of AAVs since it enables takeoffs and landings that are precisely controlled within centimeters.”
Vodafone and EHang cannot begin AAV test flights using SIM-based connectivity until an appropriate regulatory framework has been put in place. They also plan to develop services to provide AAV passengers with inflight connectivity.
Guangzhou-based EHang is developing a two-seater aircraft, the 216, as well as a single-seater, the 116. In anticipation of type certification, the company has started delivering aircraft to partners such as logistics group DHL-Sinotrans, which are conducting pilot operational programs.
Meanwhile, EHang also has announced an agreement with Azerbaijan Airlines to establish a command and control center for its AAVs at Baku’s Heydar Aliyev International Airport. The new facility will allow local air navigation service agency Azerbaijan Air Navigation Services to control unmanned aircraft on the airport site and prevent unauthorized use of such aircraft. It will feature technology such as 3D mapping and terrain scanning to support airfield design and the development of aerial navigation maps.
EHang will train Azerbaijan’s air traffic controllers to manage unmanned aircraft and build a simulator complex. There are longer term plans under the partnership to develop a web application for UAV and pilot registration information, certification documents and flight permits.