Tuesday, 22 July 2014
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Personal flying vehicles project aims to end road congestion

A ‘future concept’ EU project will assess whether personal flying vehicles could ever be used on city-wide ‘skyways’.

The €4.2m (£3.76m), four-year myCopter project is a response to the increasing and unsustainable congestion on Europe’s roads.

‘Whenever I get stuck in traffic, I think what a stupid thing [it is] to be on the road when the space above me is free — so why not use the third dimension for personal transportation?’ Prof Heinrich Bülthoff, of the Max Plank Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, told The Engineer.

‘The controlled airspace starts at 2,000ft, so there’s quite a bit of unrestricted airspace below that — which, of course, can only be used by pilots currently, but the idea is to make flying as easy as driving a car and that’s what we’re looking at.’

The project encompasses three separate arms: automation, human-machine interfaces and socio-economic environmental impact. 

While Bülthoff admits that the project has drawn some raised eyebrows, he points out that automation is slowly finding its way into concept cars for increased safety on motorways and at junctions, for example, while the defence industry is currently looking into flying ‘flocks’ of UAV drones in formation.

But, undoubtedly, many problems will have to be tackled: aerospace legislation will have to be overhauled and infrastructure created for ‘parking’ the vehicles at commuters’ workplaces, without the need for an inordinate amount of training.

myCopter concept

The myCopter vehicle is intended to make traffic jams a thing of the past

Energy considerations are also a factor — the group has calculated that an individual electric flying vehicle, with a counter-rotating rotor, would be able to cover 20km on battery power.

Although there are no plans to build prototype vehicles, simulations will play a large part in the outcome of the project, which runs to 2014.

One of the project partners is the Flight Science and Technology group at Liverpool University’s Department of Engineering, which has particular expertise in real-time flight simulation and high-performance computational fluid dynamics (CFD).

Likewise, another project partner, the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), hopes to develop human-machine interfaces that can be tested on their full-size, state-of-the-art Eurocopter EC135 fly-by simulator.

‘I’ve worked in basic research all my life, but I would like to put something back into society now — it’s a dream I’ve had for some time,’ Bülthoff said.

Comments on this story are now closed. To discuss it further, please go to its Forum discussion.


Readers' comments (12)

  • Always wanted to live in a world where we travel like they do in Minority Report, The 5th Element or Bladerunner... The biggest obstacle has to be the safety case - autonomy could help in that area but it's still a long way off yet...

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  • From a Canadian perspective I would hate to have the same road based stupidity and ignorance transfered from the "road" to the "sky". How many drivers understand tire mechanics and what happens in the wet, or the cold...will they ever understand what happens in the sky?

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  • Exciting! However, can you imagine the isurance issues? In a world where the AELTC had to close "Murray Mound" at Wimbledon due to insurance / health and safety concerns over people slipping on the grass, this kinda seems a long way off!

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  • OMG!! There are drivers who have problems with spacial awareness in two dimensions, how on (or above or more likely in to..) earth are they going to manage??

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  • Good way to beat the clamping companies.

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  • How about first authorizing it for ambulances and police? From there and based upon our new experience with it, we could expand it to those who are trained?

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  • Insane. Noise pollution, privacy, safety, suicidal fanatics, ......

    The idea will never fly.

    Arguably though in countries with low population density a better argument could be made for use. But it does not remove the problems.

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  • Yes, it's a great dream; but I can't see it ever 'getting off the ground'. Too many safety/insurance/energy consumption issues to ever be a practical solution. It never hurts to dream though, it's where good ideas often come from.

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  • I don't understand one thing that if the drivers stuck in a traffic jam have this technology aren't they all going to take off and fly away??? In that case who is going to maintain a discipline among them. I guess that time drivers/flyers have to face a blend of driving law and air law. And again once someone gets the freeness of sky is he going to use the road again knowing that he can simply take off from his house garden and land at his workplace roof top. So It will again make a huge and messy traffic in between 0 to 2000ft and when a Boeing 747 will be trying to land on Heathrow from 2001 ft to 0ft it will not find any space to dive down !!!!?

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  • If this concept is not fully automated, We will see road rage becoming air rage in no time at all.
    Thinking about it though, it could sort out the angry flyers in no time, leaving only the sensible ones.

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