Autonomous taxi company Ehang, which famously took Dutch Prince Pieter-Christiaan into the skies for a flight test last year, is to go public with a $100 million initial offering.
The Chinese company—the only company permitted to build and test autonomous flying passenger vehicle services by China’s Civil Aviation Administration—has filed paperwork with the US Securities and Exchange Commission to go public on Nasdaq.
This would be a big step for the company, taking it further than other autonomous flying vehicle companies have gone to date. But, it’s also not without risk, as both the public and regulators remain cautious about the potential benefits and dangers of autonomous vehicles in the air.
Ehang’s flagship vehicle is a 16-rotor drone, the Ehang 216. Large enough to carry two human passengers, Ehang hopes the vehicle will form the basis of the “world’s first autonomous air taxi service” in the coming months.
The company has run more than 2,000 fights to ensure the vehicles can operate safely, even in poor weather conditions.
Earlier this year, Global Shakers reported that Ehang had chosen Guangzhou as the pilot city for its Urban Air Mobility system—an aviation transport network with low-flying taxis and vehicles to carry passengers and goods. It aims to prove that its system is safe, fast and environmentally friendly.
At the same time, the company says it is looking to solve the ‘last mile’ problem faced by other cities, in that it’s still very expensive to travel or deliver something along the final stretch of a journey.
“We are in conversation with other cities, not just in China, to develop safe, efficient and affordable autonomous air transportation,” Ehang founder, chairman and CEO Hu Huazhi was quoted as saying.
For tech website Verge, the preparation for a public offering is a sign of the autonomous taxi business seeking to go mainstream.
However, it is clear about the challenges facing Ehang and the industry as a whole. The site stresses that the company is not profitable, losing over $5 million in the first half of 2019, and relying on two customers who account for 66 percent of Ehang’s total balance.
Similarly, Ehang would be at risk if there was even one crash or fatality in an autonomous vehicle—even one created by another manufacturer. Ehang itself noted that if there were an accident, regulatory agencies could tighten their restrictions “particularly over populated areas,” and the public could end up losing “confidence in our products and AAVs (Autonomous Airborne Vehicles) generally.”