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."
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.