Self-fly­ing pas­sen­ger drones are set to change city trans­port in the near fu­ture.

Tilt wings and elec­tric ro­tors promise to change trans­port

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE - AL­WYN VILJOEN • al­wyn.viljoen@wit­

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.

Fly­ing cars

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.

Ro­bot drones

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.

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