A drone big enough to carry human passengers was exhibited in China this week, and manufacturer EHang hopes that the machine could soon work like a flying taxi.
The EHang 216 has a top speed of 80mph and is autonomous, receiving signals via a 4G or 5G phone network from a command and control centre.
It can carry a payload of up to 220kg and has a range of up to 20 miles.
The aircraft is fully electric-powered and can be charged off the mains in one hour, EHang says.
Read more: Flying car takes off in Japan
It requires no runway to take off.
EHang said: “The technology of autonomous flight eliminates the possibility of failure or malfunction caused by man-made errors.
“Without any concern about controlling or operating the aircraft, the passengers can just sit and enjoy the journey.”
The company was granted a world-first licence to use drones to carry freight in China earlier this year.
Hu Huazhi, EHang’s founder, chairman and CEO, said: “We are thrilled that the CAAC (Civil Aviation Administration of China) and EHang took the lead on the world’s first commercial pilot operation approval of passenger-grade AAVs (autonomous aerial vehicle) for air logistics uses. This approval is of great significance.
Read more: Porsche and Boeing partner on flying car
“For EHang, it enables us to enhance our first-mover advantage and accelerate the commercialisation of AAV technology and air mobility solutions for logistics.
“It also lays a foundation for regulators around the world to jointly explore and establish a coordinated, supportive and sustainable regulatory environment. This will benefit the long-term development of the promising Urban Air Mobility (UAM) applications.”
Test flights of passenger drones have already been completed by AeroMobil in Slovakia and Kitty Hawk in the US.
Experts have predicted that the flying car market could be worth up to $1 billion by 2030.
The biggest barrier to flying cars is regulation, especially in the UK where the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) sets the rules.
The CAA has said that any flying vehicle would be treated in exactly the same way as other light aircraft and it would be “many years” before they could fly without a pilot.