First in (Autonomous) Flight: Duke Grad Returns to NC for North America’s First Autonomous Air Taxi Flight

RALEIGH – A Duke graduate who founded a technology company to build autonomous air taxis came back to the First in Flight state to add to the legacy. More than 100 people gathered Tuesday to watch the first autonomous air taxi flight in North America.

After graduating from Duke University’s Fuqua school of Business with a Masters Degree in 2013, Derrick Xiong cofounded EHang the next year with a mission to make safe, eco-friendly, and fully autonomous flying mobiles. They’ve been delivering packages in China, and carrying people in test flights in different parts of the world, but this first test flight here in North America.

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This drone taxi can carry two people on pre-programmed routes, but FAA guidelines required an unmanned flight demonstration. The company says its vehicles can be used for traffic management and emergency response.

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Publicly traded, EHang Inc., has a partnership with DHL-Sinotrans International Air Courier Ltd. to tackle last-mile delivery in China using cargo drones. It’s also working with grocery chain Yonghui Superstores Co. to use drones for food delivery. But North Carolina, in recognition of its heritage in flight, has been incentivizing drone initiatives and preparing for regulations to help the state become a destination for drone technology manufacturers and operators. Imagine calling an Uber to get to the big game or late to a meeting, stepping into one of these, and right over all the traffic.

Before long the futuristic exoticism of traveling like the Jetson’s will fade as we watch air taxi’s buzz by with out a second thought. Hopefully the citizens of North Carolina can benefit as the state aims to be a center for growth in this budding industry.

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