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EU project looks to the future of personal air transport

By

June 30, 2011

An envisioned Personal Aerial Vehicle illustrates what our city skies could soon look like...

An envisioned Personal Aerial Vehicle illustrates what our city skies could soon look like (Image by Gareth Padfield, Flight Stability and Control)

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A European Union project known as myCopter has set aside funds of €4.2 million (US$6.2m) to investigate the possibility of introducing Personal Aerial Vehicles (PAVs) into the skyways of many congested European cities. 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 - it's these challenges that the myCopter project aims to address.

"We aim 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," Prof Heinrich Bülthoff of the Max Plank Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, Germany, told Gizmag.

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. By flying below 2000 feet, the new traffic system hopes to operate outside of 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 for 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."

A concept PAV cockpit (Image by Gareth Padfield, Flight Stability and Control)

Another attraction of the myCopter project is its potential to reduce greenhouse emissions by facilitating travel that is more direct between departure and arrival points. Due to the fact that the average myCopter scenario would cover shorter distances (under 100 km / 62 miles) and transport 1-2 passengers, future air vehicles could become completely 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.

myCopter plans to use unmanned aerial vehicles to demonstrate the automation technologies it has developed, including obstacle avoidance, path planning and formation flying.

Source: myCopter via TheEngineer.

About the Author
Bridget Borgobello Bridget is an experienced freelance writer, presenter and performer with a keen eye for innovative design and a passion for green technology. Australian born, Bridget currently resides in Rome and when not scribbling for Gizmag, she spends her time developing new web series content and independent cinema.   All articles by Bridget Borgobello
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22 Comments

I'll get flamed for this, but this is why Greece is where they are today. I'm a pilot and engineer, and this kind of nonsense - cool and awesome as it is - is an enraging waste of taxpayer money that exemplifies the current fall of European socialism.

You and I innovate because you can create cool new businesses with your own ideas. In a private business, Dr. Bulthoff has to go out and execute a concept that investors and the public will respond to. He can't come up with vague unworkable fluff like this - it has to be something real and useful. The thin excuse that aerospace companies will benefit here is total fiction. They are already working on this stuff, starting with NASA's HITS program ten years ago.

But Dr. Bulthoff got the government to pay for his fun with money from your pockets. Money you can no longer put towards pursuing your own ideas and creations. You're financing his; and you don't get a choice, do you?

If I was in government and had the power to throw you in jail for not paying your taxes to me, I'd be doing exactly this kind if project with your money - instead of inspecting the sewers or improving efficiency at the DMV. Half a century ago, government was controlled by the people. They weren't supposed to compete against private business; they were supposed to serve private businesses - like yours.

Now that Dr. Bulthoff is totally free from consequences, poor sales and business failure he's free to come up with inspiring illustrations for ill-conceived ideas that are exciting on a purely emotional level. The sort of stuff we all wish for, but if it's so good why does he need free money for it?

Whether taxes come from the individual or business, the cost is inevitably passed along to you and I - making it that much harder to bring your dreams to fruition.

Todd Dunning
30th June, 2011 @ 12:50 pm PDT

It does not look to have a no-power safe landing mode, unlike a conventional helicopter.

Slowburn
30th June, 2011 @ 02:45 pm PDT

possibly an automatic close to the rotor ports could complete the wing and allow gliding.

Paul Robertson
30th June, 2011 @ 07:18 pm PDT

How can you tell?? The rotors by design will slow decent in the event of power failure.

I think that the addition of another fossil fuel burning vehicle into the already over- crowded environment is quite irresponsible. Any new type of transport system developed for mass transit must be a zero emission vehicle. To do otherwise would be criminal.

Foxy1968
30th June, 2011 @ 07:45 pm PDT

parachute or SPLAT no power landing?

Bill Bennett
30th June, 2011 @ 08:51 pm PDT

Todd,

I understand your frustration but my share of the cost (for 300 million people) for this project is about 2 cents. I don't mind paying 2 cents for something like this. It's the $4000 that I've spent in Iraq and Afghanistan that I don't like.

wolfdoctor
1st July, 2011 @ 06:53 am PDT

The problem with a flying car is that the congestion on the roads simply moves to the sky.

What happens when there are 300,000 air born cars in the sky during rush hour? You think accidents are bad now? wait till they start falling into peoples houses at 100km an hour.

Flying cars will NEVER be practical. Never ever. Quit wasting money on it. Build some light rail transport with all that wasted cash.

Artisteroi
1st July, 2011 @ 06:55 am PDT

Lots of people harp on about auto-rotating but engine failure,

especially with Turbines,

is neither a common event nor the greatest cause of crashes.

Weather and pilot error are greater problems than mechanical failure.

Anybody who will be able to afford this can afford a helicopter now-

price&complexity of ownership is more of an immediate obstacle than ease or safety of operation.

Many of these newer designs claim to be able to continue to fly with one or more engine failures anyway.

I think that all this automation will give new meaning to the term "computer crash".

If you want to fly bad enough,

you can.

If you want to wait till someone gives you the privilege...

I suggest taking the bus while you're waiting.

It might be awhile.

Griffin
1st July, 2011 @ 06:56 am PDT

welcome back past! i never thought you would stick around for soooo long.

Kyle R Johnson
1st July, 2011 @ 07:02 am PDT

In response to Todd Dunning: Well said! However, dreaming does lead to reality. NASA engineers (I was one of them for ten years) get paid lots of your tax dollars to dream, and MOST of their dreams do not come to fruition. Those that do, though, have some huge, positive impacts on our lives.

bill
1st July, 2011 @ 07:08 am PDT

I'm sorry but this, and all 'flying car' ideas are doomed to fail. Aside from the obvious problem of what happens when the engine stops working, you would need to be a fully qualified pilot to fly this. To train as a pilot to even the most basic level costs around £4500 and takes months. Not because the examiners are just mean, but because controlling a vehicle in 3 dimensions is so much more demanding and dangerous than driving a car. If you need a Private Pilot's Licence to fly it then why not just buy a used Cessna or Robinson helicopter. They would be safer and cheaper and would not be compromised by the fact that they also need to work as a car.

mommus
1st July, 2011 @ 07:19 am PDT

I love reading all the wonderful pie-in-the-sky futurism articles from Gizmag, but this and the other Solotrek ducted fan VTOL concept recently posted are both bogus, unsafe unworkable designs just like the Moller skycar. Even the Martin Jetpack, which is already flying with a recovery parachute scares me.

A gyrocopter is a much safer concept thann a ducted-fan VTOL design, either that or we all need to go out and get our helicopter pilots licenses and buy Robinson R22s, which cost about $100,000!

See this article on cartercopter-

http://www.gizmag.com/go/2504/

PeetEngineer
1st July, 2011 @ 08:19 am PDT

What is the betting it will only be the top-brass of the EU politburo and their global-corporate and banking masters who get to flit about in these whist the rest of us, the tax-slave human herd, grovel about in endless traffic or more likely ride push-bikes and walk. The EU investment in this project will only be about their own self-aggrandizement, luxury and convenience. Nothing else crosses their minds.

David Richard Tobin
1st July, 2011 @ 10:04 am PDT

You deserve to get flamed Todd because your reasoning is so flawed. Starting with the railroads, government handouts have always been part of U.S. transportation strategy. Sewers, water pipelines, aqueducts, rural electrification and, America's favourite, the national highway system all evolved with the government in the lead. Simply because YOU won't directly benefit from some kind of government research, doesn't mean that it's a waste of tax payer money. Most private investors want immediate return on their money. Unfortunately this attitude precludes most novel innovations that take time to develop.

I agree that the "flying cars" concept is fraught with dangers. But automobiles have proven to be about as deadly as any form of transportation, yet we pour billions into the existing infrastructure every year. Let's face it, we love them. If you lived a hundred years ago Todd, you'd be whining about taxes being spent developing the highway system; too dangerous, too expensive and think of all of the land that will be permanently paved over. Not to mention the noise and confusion induced in our beloved horses!

Your silly anti-government nonsense is the product of antiquated thinking. The most militarily powerful country on earth can't afford to have a weak central government. Without national policies on education and infrastructure we'll quickly become a second tier economy. And cheapskate rich folks will ensure that their grandkids end up citizens of a beat-up, backwards and backwater nation; doesn't sound very patriotic to me.

fleming
1st July, 2011 @ 04:50 pm PDT

Bill: It does not matter how big or small the amount is that an individual pays for one project. A principle is at stake. Who gets wealth? The creator or a bureaucrat? You can donate YOUR WEALTH, but you have no right to donate mine. The amount is irrelevant. In a republic my rights are supposed to be protected from people like you. It has never worked and I now believe after studying the matter for 56 years that it never will. We must protect ourselves and not give away our power to politicians. If you can't tax me, how can you give permission to a politician to do it? You can't delegate authority you don't have.

I do not support NASA but I am a Trekkie since 1967.

voluntaryist
1st July, 2011 @ 06:59 pm PDT

I like driving a car. If my engine stops I'm already on the ground!

Michael Schmitt
2nd July, 2011 @ 12:24 pm PDT

fleming, try to address my post instead pasting DailyKos talking points. Your 'cheapskate rich folks' gives away your novice status on economics.

You miss the point of my post by implying that since I'm opposed to this project funded with money taken from your pockets, I must also be opposed to all R&D.

'Cheapskate rich folks' get that way by providing products and services to you - like this excellent blog and the advertisers on it. You'll learn that in your sophomore year, yet probably not in a public institution resentful to 'cheapskate rich folks' that they leech off for their survival.

When you tax anything and everything in sight to finance absurd 'R&D' projects like this one, you get the situation of the last few years and especially Greece - where the evil cheapskate rich folks have nothing left to give you to survive off of. Egads, you might have to become a cheapskate rich person yourself!

Todd Dunning
2nd July, 2011 @ 12:33 pm PDT

Unless all the safety criterion are proved, this project will not get a green signal. and if safety is proved with all in built POKA-YOKE's in these so called PAV's then it will be the one of the best inventions of the century.

Moreover, if we trace back the history of aviation, when the concept of air travel was taken into consideration, it was still under a pessimistic scanner. but now we cannot believe ourselves without Airplanes. Though it is not the safest mode of transportation, but better than roadways in terms of total lives lost in accidents every year all over the world.

lets be optimistic to see this project getting successful, if only it is proved safe with a zero mishap track record.

Suslove
2nd July, 2011 @ 09:37 pm PDT

Efficient animal powered transport require good roads.

The concept of the railroad was proven by private investment.

The concept of the automobile was proven by private investment.

The concept of lighter that air flight was proven by private investment.

The concept of rocketry was proven by private investment.

The concept of fixed-wing flight was proven by private investment.

The concept of rotary-wing flight was proven by private investment.

The concept of ducted fan VTOL needs to be proven by private investment.

London once had competing pipe based water distribution without subsidies.

The farm my mother grew up on had a windcharger before the government built power lines to it.

A law that you must dispose of sewage in a sanitary, non-polluting manner would actually be better than the government running the sewage treatment facility.

Slowburn
3rd July, 2011 @ 07:51 am PDT

@Todd

I agree, there really should not be a need for a government to invest in research of a any concepts UNLESS there may be a WORTHWHILE benefit to its constituents (TAXPAYERS), be it via reducing congestion, transportation times, etc.

@Griffin, @Peet and @Mommus, helicopters are good enough, please consider the impractical size and parking ability of a helicopter as a commuting vehicle.

@Artisteroi, who said 300,000 people in an area would be able to afford something like this, let alone pass a pilots examination?

People, perhaps this design is not the best (maybe because of the power failure issue) but do not limit your minds to what you think cannot be done. Imagine where we'd be if doers started listening to naysayers.

Knowledge Thirsty
4th July, 2011 @ 11:55 am PDT

If you have interest in a Personal Air Vehicle that is more conventional in nature, not funded by the Government, that does have great auto-rotational capabilities, good speed, payload and range, and is easy to fly and maintain, with a luxury car like price, I suggest you take a look at the Helodyne (www.Helodyne.com).

VTOL Qwerty
15th July, 2011 @ 02:05 pm PDT

I have yet to travel to a country where motorists could handle two dimensional travel and the thought of these same people trying to manage three dimensions safely is frankly ludicrous. Individuals flying light planes are disproportionately involved in fatal accidents and that is with uncrowded skies in most parts of the world.

I would certainly not want to have a two aircraft collision taking place not in front of school but in the air above the school and you can extend that picture to the rest of our cities.

I have been reading these types of fantasies for more than half a century and the people behind them continually ignore the human factor. What would be needed is a smart GPS grid but even with the tremendous fuel savings that such an approach would provide for the passenger jets this system is still not even on the drawing boards. Having had functional GPS for more than 30 years the airlines are still not able to fly their planes along the most direct route to their destinations.

Calson
21st July, 2011 @ 05:02 pm PDT
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