Zee.Aero, a small company located near the GooglePlex, home to Google, is working on a flying car concept that can take off and land vertically using a plethora of small electric motors turning four-bladed propellers. According to illustrations included with the patent filings, one version of the vehicle is narrow enough to fit into a standard shopping center parking space.
The Zee.Aero design sees wings mounted fore and aft, with the payload area mounted in between. This arrangement is called a canard wing, with the aircraft’s horizontal stabilizer mounted on the front of the aircraft instead of on the tail. On the top of this compact wing arrangement are a number of electric engines turning fat, four-bladed propellers.
This group of engines, which from the illustrations seems to number eight, can use battery power to lift the aircraft vertically for takeoff. Then two vertically mounted engines provide forward thrust until the wings have enough air traveling over them to provide lift. The small vertical engines can be shut down then for an efficient cruise flight.
The large number of propellers are to provide redundancy in the case of failure. Flight control in hover is provided by changing the thrust on individual engines, which is far simpler than the helicopter method of varying propeller pitch in various ways.
This vehicle design is being led by Ilan Kroo, an aeronautics professor and NASA scientist who has founded Zee.Aero and is listed as the inventor on the patent applications. Zee.Aero has listed on its web site a number of openings for aeronautical engineers, and states that it is aiming to use “aerodynamics, autonomy, and electric propulsion” to change personal aviation. The company also mentions the generous use of carbon fiber as a building material.
The intriguing pictures are all from the patent filings by the new company, and one of them shows a larger version of the vehicle with bigger engines and smaller wings parked between two cars, apparently at a supermarket or shopping mall, indicating a flying car.
The concept does bear some resemblance to other projects – we recently reported on the Volocopter, which has eighteen small electric engines providing lift in a snowflake arrangement. Flying cars like the Terrafugia must drive to the airport, spread wings, and take off from a runway. This is the same for the eastern-European designed Aeromobile.
There are certainly advantages of the Zee.Aero approach. Multiple electric motors can be driven from a common battery bank or gasoline-powered generator. Controls for such a craft are mechanically very simple, but will require some sophisticated software to make the aircraft easy to fly.
And just so you know, Caleb Garling of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Kroo says that Google is not involved in the project and that the search giant's close proximity is just a coincidence.