Vodafone Germany has signed a deal with a Chinese flying car company as part of its ambition to develop an air traffic control system for drones and aerial taxis. Under the agreement, Vodafone will become EHang’s exclusive partner to provide connectivity to all EHang AAVs operating in Europe by equipping them with Vodafone SIM cards. EHang will become Vodafone’s exclusive UAM partner.
The EHang deal has been signed with Vodafone Germany, based in Düsseldorf, which has become a hub for the group’s technology development. It is supplying 5G connectivity to control the manufacturing lines for the eGo driverless car factory in Aachen.
Through the Vodafone network, individual passenger and logistics AAVs will be able to communicate with the command-and-control centers that regulate their operations as well as with each other, enabling safer and more efficient transportation through urban air space.
“Every 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 take-offs and landings that are precisely controlled within centimeters.”
Vodafone CEO Hannes Ametsreiter said: “Autonomous air taxis will enable increased mobility options for all of us in the future. They will complement existing modes of transportation but allow us to fly above traffic jams if needed.”
Once the regulatory framework allows, EHang and Vodafone also intend to collaborate on AAV test flights and will further work together on mobility platform services that provide digital and streaming content to AAV passengers while in-vehicle, enable payments, and support identity verification.
By 2050, nearly 100,000 passenger drones could be in service worldwide, according to a new study by management consultancy Roland Berger. Other studies forecast higher numbers and predict that increasing urbanization and congestion on the roads will also increase the demand for air taxis.
However, the key challenges remain such as creating infrastructures, such as landing zones, electricity charging stations, and mobile communications, in addition to public acceptance and aerospace aviation legislation.
It is the early days for aerial taxis. Limited trials have taken place but a commercial launch of drone-based vehicles might still be a long way off due to the length of time needed to create a regulatory framework. More companies are developing passenger drones to fight for a slice of a potentially huge market for flying taxis. EHang expects to launch its aerial vehicles in 2025.