Startup spotlight: EHang and its passenger drones
With Chinese drone manufacturer EHang reportedly gearing up for a US IPO, we take a look at the promise of urban aerial mobility fueling the buzz.
EHang refers to its technology as autonomous aerial vehicles (AAVs). Different models include the passenger-grade EHang 216 as well as the non-passenger EHang Falcon. The 216 can carry 220kg and fly at 130km/h (Just over 80 mi/h) and runs on battery power. Passengers supposedly need only choose their destination on a mobile app, with the vehicle handling take-off, travel on predefined routes, and landing.
Passenger-carrying demonstrations have already taken place in numerous Chinese cities, including EHang’s home of Guangzhou, and worldwide in places such as Austria, Qatar and the Netherlands.
Back in August, the company selected the city of Guangzhou as a pilot location for urban air mobility – the transportation of people via drone. That initiative was pre-commercial, and intended to demonstrate the feasibility of the project as it tested routes for both passengers and goods.
Since then, EHang has achieved a number of other milestones, including a traffic management certification. Though this might sound dry, such systems are vital for the technology’s success, consisting of fenced areas and zones prohibiting and allowing access.
Zhang Zhengjuan, a senior engineer at the Civil UAS Inspection Center of the China Academy of Civil Aviation Science and Technology said the development marked “a breakthrough in urban air mobility space. Significantly, EHang’s command-and-control system is more intelligent in managing the AAVs’ flight routes, and with real-time remote communication via 4G and 5G telecom networks, their operation is simpler and safer than conventional drones manual-controlled by radio frequency within limited distances.”
Urban aerial mobility is poised to become a revolutionary new technology. With established giants of the likes of Boeing and Airbus already dipping their toes, Morgan Stanley predicts the market could be worth $1.5trn by 2040.
Discord buys Sentropy to fight against hate and abuse online
Discord, a popular chat app, has acquired the software company Sentropy to bolster its efforts to combat online abuse and harassment. Sentropy, monitors online networks for abuse and harassment, then offers users a way to block problematic people and filter out messages they don’t want to see.
First launched in 2015 and currently boasting 150 million monthly active users, Discord plans to integrate Sentropy’s own products into its existing toolkit and the company will also bring the smaller company’s leadership group aboard. Discord currently uses a “multilevel” approach to moderation, and a Trust and Safety (T&S) team dedicated to protecting users and shaping content moderation policies comprised 15% of Discord’s workforce as of May 2020.
“T&S tech and processes should not be used as a competitive advantage,” Sentropy CEO John Redgrave said in a blog post on the announcement. “We all deserve digital and physical safety, and moderators deserve better tooling to help them do one of the hardest jobs online more effectively and with fewer harmful impacts.”
Cleanse platforms of online harassment and abuse
Redgrave elaborated on the company’s natural connection with Discord: “Discord represents the next generation of social companies — a generation where users are not the product to be sold, but the engine of connectivity, creativity, and growth. In this model, user privacy and user safety are essential product features, not an afterthought. The success of this model depends upon building next-generation Trust and Safety into every product. We don’t take this responsibility lightly and are humbled to work at the scale of Discord and with Discord’s resources to increase the depth of our impact.”
Sentropy launched out of stealth last summer with an AI system designed to detect, track and cleanse platforms of online harassment and abuse. The company emerged then with $13 million in funding from notable backers including Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and his VC firm Initialized Capital, King River Capital, Horizons Ventures and Playground Global.
“We are excited to help Discord decide how we can most effectively share with the rest of the Internet the best practices, technology, and tools that we’ve developed to protect our own communities,” Redgrave said.