The cab of the future flies
The traffic situation in most major cities around the world is catastrophic. Where roads used to be congested only during rush hour, they are now congested all day long. This leads not only to increased noise pollution, but also to rising air pollution.
The levels of particulate matter in most major cities, especially in Asia and South America, are far above the levels considered acceptable for health.
It is therefore not surprising that many carmakers and startups around the world have been feverishly searching for a solution for years. And so, in the next few years, a dream of many science fiction authors of recent decades could actually become reality – a flying car or rather a flying drone that transports people.
Flying car vs. manned drone
Daimler can imagine taking to the skies, as the head of Daimler’s future division Axel Harries recently admitted to German magazine Automobilwoche. Toyota is already working concretely on a manned three-wheeled flying object that is intended to relieve the roads. And other automakers also have plans in the drawer or are at least thinking about directing their research in this direction.
And yet there are competitors on the market who are much further ahead. One example is the small Baden-based (Germany) start-up E-Volo. The makers of E-Volo have already completed their first manned test flight. Alexander Zosel, one of the company’s two co-founders, took part in the test flight himself.
The Volokopter from E-Volo is a mixture of helicopter and drone. 18 small rotors are attached to a circular device above the seat cabin. Almost noiseless, without emissions and completely electronically operated – that’s how the air cab from the house of E-Volo comes across. And in the future, the flight is even supposed to work without a pilot. Just a nice dream?
Flying on autopilot is more realistic than driving a car without a driver
The chances of new aircraft getting their passengers from A to B unharmed and without pilots are significantly higher than trying to convert all car traffic to autopilot. In the air, there are no pedestrians, no bicycles, no traffic signs and no traffic lights to obey. Only other aircraft and large objects crossing or blocking the way.
Software for collision avoidance in the skies already exists – even if it has so far only been used in drones with cameras, such as the DJI Mavic Pro or the Phantom 4 Pro. The next challenge is to develop manned cab drones and equip them with the appropriate sensors and software.
The Volokopter – an aircraft of the future, grown from the dream of a drone pilot
The idea to build a vehicle like the Volokopter came to Zosel and his business partner while looking at new drone models in the specialty store. Today, a fixed idea has already become much more.
The first test flight took place as early as March 2016. In the meantime, E-Volo has reached the point where Zosel expects the first autopiloted drones to be taking passengers to work, shopping or anywhere else in two years. The entrepreneur dreams of landing platforms on the roofs of high-rise buildings or, a particularly charming idea, a loading balcony directly on the house.
Since the Volokopter can take off and land from a standing position like a drone, a relatively small area is all it needs for takeoff and landing. In the future, for example, the transport drone could be used as a shuttle for routes from the train station, to the airport or for transferring from one riverbank to another.
No matter how you slice it, the future of transportation in major cities seems to be in the air. E-Volo is well equipped for this future with its Volokopter, which can stay aloft for about half an hour at a maximum speed of 62 mph (100 km/h). Zosel is certain that municipalities and companies will follow suit. It will be interesting to see what else awaits us in this area of drone development in the coming years.
By the way, the first pre-orders for the Volokopter have already been received. The helicopter drone is expected to cost around €300,000 when it is finally launched on the market. Compared to a small aircraft, that’s not exactly a bargain. The question remains as to whether this form of transportation will also be accessible to normal earners at some point in the future.