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The First-Ever Passenger Drone in U.S. Takes Flight

by Rick Anderson

Plenty of gadgets and tech advancements making their debut at CES in Las Vegas this week claim to be revolutionary. Few of them, however, seem as fundamentally transformative as Intel’s ambitious attempt to redefine the future of flight. Developed in partnership between Intel and German startup Volocopter, the VC200 is less of a flying car and more of a battery-powered drone, with 18 rotor blades capable of transporting passengers while emitting zero emissions. While Volocopter has conducted manned tests at a German research facility and unmanned flights in Dubai (where local authorities hope to develop a fleet of autonomous drone taxis ), its brief ascent above the CES stage at the tail end of Intel’s keynote was the first time that a U.S. audience has witnessed an air taxi of its kind in action.

What helps Volocopter’s latest effort stand out amid the crowded landscape of companies racing to build a viable manned drone is the numerous failsafes incorporated into every aspect of the VC200’s engineering. The 18 rotors rely on nine different battery packs, and its four internal movement units constantly recalculate the drone’s positioning in flight to ensure stability. There are multiple redundancies built into its GPS and navigation systems, and a ballistic parachute gently conveys the drone to the ground should all else fail.

“We think this vehicle can be constructed in a way that is as safe as a commercial airliner, which is where it needs to be in order to be applied at scale in megacities across the world,” said Volocopter CEO Florian Reuter, in an interview with The Verge . He also added that the VC200 is "extremely simple to fly, quiet, and when running on its batteries, emission free."

While the idea of hailing a VC200 sounds appealing, don’t expect to say goodbye to ground transportation just yet. Volocopters can’t take to the skies until they receive Federal Aviation Administration approval. For now, you can watch the video The Verge put together below, and start dreaming of the day when you can soar above the traffic.

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