Self-flying passenger drones are set to change city transport in the near future.
Tilt wings and electric rotors promise to change transport
FACT — a decade from now, hopping into a drone that you hailed using the computer in your smart glasses would be the norm in all major cities around the world.
Ten years hence, there will be as many sizes and brands of drones as there are car brands currently, with the Daimler Group one of the leading investors in this future of personal transport.
Google is another, with its Kitty Hawk Flyer — a singleseat drone that is billed as recreational craft for use over water, but if prototypes being built by Russians entrepreneurs are any indication, more “drone scooters” will soon buzz over built-up areas too.
The dozen drones and or flying cars unveiled to date come in one of two flavours — those that need pilot licenses, and those that don’t.
The most exciting of the drones, the Blackfly by California-based Opener, does require its pilots to pass a private pilot’s written examination.
Another is German firm Lilium’s “jet”, which has 36 ducted rotors to endow this flying car with precise, almost balletic control and a speed of 300 km/h. Lilium plans to sell this vertical lift-off plane (VTOL) in 2020 and operators will also need a pilot’s license.
More mainstream designs — if only because they make hovering cars as opposed to selfflying drones — are the Dutch PAL-V One; the Chineseowned, Massachusetts-based Terrafugia corporation; and Slovakia-based AeroMobil.
These three companies have demonstrated cars with wings that require a pilot’s licence to fly, but won’t require an airport for take-off and landing and it will be licenced to drive on roads and highways.
Thinking bigger, Bostonbased Transcend Air Corporation is working on the Vy 400 — a tilt-wing vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) six-seater aircraft designed to ferry people in and out of cities. The company said it plans an air taxi-style commuter service to operate the aircraft by 2024.
The Vy 400 has eight propulsion systems, spread across two wings to provide multiple-failure security. It is capable of traveling 40 km on a charge at a restricted speed of 100 km/h.
The drone that has been most written about after successful tests over Dubai last year is the Daimler-backed Volocopter drone, which was created by Intel and German start-up Volocopter.
As with the Lilium jet, the drone has multiple redundant rotors that ensure safety and a very stable flight platform.
The Germans are competing with Chinese company Ehang’s 184 drone, which was also tested with success in Dubai in 2017, and while the open rotors have elicited many concerned comments, Ehang said the drone will be sold in 2020.
The BlackFly uses eight small rotors spread across two parallel tilt wings to fly as fast and graceful as the fast little fly it is named after. California-based Opener is showing its vertical lift-off plane at this week’s 2018 EAA AirVenture Convention in Oshkosh.
Chinese company Ehang’s has also successfully tested its fully autonomous 184 drone, despite the open rotors causing safety concerns.
The Siyaya of the future, a six-seat air taxi that Boston-based Transcend Air Corporation plans to have hovering in the air by 2024 — six years from now.
Lilium’s engineers say their ‘jet’ uses 36 ducted rotors on tilt wings to lift off vertically and then hit up to 300 km/h in horizontal flight.
Terrafugia is based in the U.S. and now has Chinese backing to bring their vertical lift-off, straight flying car to market.
No longer science fiction, Volocopter’s two-seater drone has been successfully tested by Dubai’s transport department.
The Google-backed Kitty Hawk Flier started as a single-seat drone scooter before being enclosed in its current state.