Vodafone has signed a strategic air taxi deal with EHang, a Chinese develoepr of autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) technology. Ehang flew its first manned flight in China in September and will work with Vodafone on building an urban air mobility (UAM) ecosystem first in Germany and then Europe-wide.
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 air taxi partner. The deal is key as the EHang model sees individual passenger and logistics AAVs communicate with the command-and-control centres 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 Hu Huazhi, EHang's founder, Chairman, and CEO. "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."
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.
"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," said Hannes Ametsreiter, CEO of Vodafone.
Alongside the air taxi demo, EHang's logistics AAVs are already in regular use via a pilot project that EHang is conducting in partnership with logistics company DHL-Sinotrans.