A flying motorhome may be part of our new reality sooner than you think—or at least we can all dream.
It’s another day, and another flying car. Hopes of the Age of the Flying Car were recently renewed with news that the Terrafugia Transition® Roadable Aircraft was deemed roadworthy by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Now, another flying car is in the limelight, bringing the possibility of Personal Aerial Vehicles (PAVs) even closer to reality.
So are we really approaching an era of flying cars?
A new vehicle with the creative name of myCopter is being touted as a solution to the ever present problem of road congestion.
The European Union is investing €4.2 million (US$6.2 million) to investigate the possibility of introducing PAVs into the skies of Europe’s most congested cities. The idea is for myCopter to attempt to solve the numerous problems that could potentially arise from futuristic flying cars.
This coming age of the “flying car” where vehicles leave the roads and launch into the skies promises to solve problems like dramatically rising urban traffic congestion, but it also throws up some formidable challenges that the myCopter project attempts to address.
According to Prof Heinrich Bülthoff of the Max Plank Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tubingen, Germany, the project aims “to develop technologies that could be used to form a new transportation system for personal travel that uses the third dimension, and which takes into account questions surrounding the expectations of potential users and how the public would react to and interact with such a system.”
They envision myCopter as part of a network of flying vehicles— a controlled network, that is. Imagine a cable car system translated into an air system—the myCopters would be programmed to follow formations and avoid obstacles. That may take away from the fun of flying, but isn’t safety is a more important consideration?
The myCopter project envisions that the PAVs and PATS (personal air transport systems) would initially be used to fly at low altitudes for domestic travel between homes and working places.
The idea is for PAVs to be partially or fully autonomous, doing away with the need for air traffic control, which is currently required for airplanes and helicopters.
By flying below 2,000 feet, the new traffic system hopes to operate outside of this controlled airspace, without ground-based traffic control, and without impacting on existing air traffic.
Whilst the concept sounds very appealing, considerable hurdles remain to be tackled involving aerospace legislation, security, and town planning related to landing, taking-off, and parking.
“Security issues are an important topic that requires extensive attention when the vision of the myCopter project becomes reality, but we foresee that automation will play a big and important role in the entire transportation system,” explains Dr. Bülthoff. “Therefore it could be highly likely that no-flight zones that PAVs simply could not fly in will be designed, because the automation that is onboard will not allow the vehicle to be directed towards these zones.”
myCopter is also likely to reduce greenhouse emissions in the long run because the flight path is more direct making trips more efficient. Researchers on the project estimate that trips will be shorter than 62 miles in length—allowing the vehicles to go entirely electric.
“Already now there are technology demonstrators such as the eCO2Avia from EADS that show that electrically powered vertical flight is possible, even though a diesel generator is currently still required to charge the batteries for sustained flight,” added Dr. Bülthoff.
The myCopter project aims to pave the way for PAVs to be used by the general public within the context of such a transport system.
The project consortium consists of experts that can make the technology advancements necessary for a viable PATS, and a partner to assess the impact of the envisioned PATS on society (socio-technological evaluation). To this end, test models of handling dynamics for potential PAVs will be designed and implemented on unmanned aerial vehicles, motion simulators, and a manned helicopter. In addition, an investigation into the human capability of flying a PAV will be conducted, resulting in a user-centered design of a suitable human-machine interface (HMI).
Furthermore, the project will introduce new automation technologies for obstacle avoidance, path planning, and formation flying, which also have potential for other aerospace applications. This project is a unique integration of technological advancements and social investigations that are necessary to move public transportation into the third dimension.
Currently, there are no plans to build a prototype vehicle, but simulators would be built by the year 2014. Stay tuned.
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.