Aircraft

Safety last: Russian hoverbike is equally amazing and horrifying

Safety last: Russian hoverbike...
The Hoversurf Scorpion might be just the vehicle for aspiring amputees
The Hoversurf Scorpion might be just the vehicle for aspiring amputees
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Hoversurf's vision of an elevated garage for 3D commuting on multirotor hoverbikes
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Hoversurf's vision of an elevated garage for 3D commuting on multirotor hoverbikes
The Hoversurf Scorpion's large wooden props
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The Hoversurf Scorpion's large wooden props
The Hoversurf Scorpion might be just the vehicle for aspiring amputees
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The Hoversurf Scorpion might be just the vehicle for aspiring amputees
Hoversurf Scorpion: indoor flight tests of prototype 3
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Hoversurf Scorpion: indoor flight tests of prototype 3
Dirt bike gear is an odd choice, but supports Hoversurf's vision for the Scorpionas some kind of extreme adventure vehicle
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Dirt bike gear is an odd choice, but supports Hoversurf's vision for the Scorpionas some kind of extreme adventure vehicle
The Hoversurf Scorpion is a Russian multirotor hoverbike for the very brave
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The Hoversurf Scorpion is a Russian multirotor hoverbike for the very brave
Hoversurf Scorpion: hoverbike pilot narrowly avoids banging his head on the roof beams of the factory
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Hoversurf Scorpion: hoverbike pilot narrowly avoids banging his head on the roof beams of the factory
The Hoversurf Scorpion hoverbike prepares to lift off
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The Hoversurf Scorpion hoverbike prepares to lift off
Early prototype of the Hoversurf Scorpion flying platform
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Early prototype of the Hoversurf Scorpion flying platform
Hoversurf's vision for a VTOL multirotor air taxi
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Hoversurf's vision for a VTOL multirotor air taxi
Outdoor testing of the first Scorpion prototype
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Outdoor testing of the first Scorpion prototype

Those from the health and safety brigade might want to click away now, but aspiring amputees should check out this latest manned multirotor out of Russia. The Hoversurf Scorpion is a motorcycle-styled hoverbike with four high-speed props mounted right at leg-amputation level. And it's already flying high enough to bang the pilot's head on the rafters.

Everyone saw it coming. As soon as multirotor drones hit the market somewhere around five years ago, it was obvious: one day these clever, self-stabilizing airframes would carry people around. They offered the vertical takeoff and hover advantages of a helicopter, but without the mechanical complexity, high maintenance requirements, difficult four-limbed control scheme or the huge, noisy top rotor.

What wasn't immediately obvious was just how easy it would be to build one. Today, powerful, responsive electric motors and large lithium-ion battery packs are easily available off the shelf. Accelerometers, inertial measurement units and GPS chips have become incredibly cheap and plentiful. Flight control hardware and software has matured incredibly quickly in a few short years.

Hoversurf Scorpion: indoor flight tests of prototype 3
Hoversurf Scorpion: indoor flight tests of prototype 3

So while established aviation companies are most definitely getting on board with a new wave of electric VTOL aircraft development, there's also a maverick fringe of crazy inventors making these things in their back yards and factory spaces.

And where the big aviation companies take a safety-first risk mitigation approach, these guys are happy to use themselves as guinea pigs. They'll run some unmanned tests on the airframe, then hop on board and try a couple of tethered flights before setting up a video camera, jumping on board and taking to the skies. It's awesome, as well as viscerally terrifying, to watch.

Take this latest contraption from Moscow-based Hoversurf: a quadcopter hoverbike styled after an adventure motorcycle and lifted by four wooden rotors around the 1-meter (3-ft) range in length. A video released last week shows a rider, clad in dirt bike gear, flying the hoverbike in a warehouse, nail-bitingly close to the roof support beams. It appears to be reasonably stable.

Hoverbike Scorpion-3 TRAILER 2017

A further video shows the team flying an earlier prototype of the Scorpion outside, over a basketball court, both unmanned and manned, with even less safety gear than above:

Scorpion 1

It's an impressive achievement. But it doesn't take a genius to spot a few pretty scary flaws.

Putting the props at the bottom of the airframe instead of above (like the Volocopter, Sky-Hopper and Jetpack Aviation designs) lets you create a lighter aircraft and a greater feeling of magic-carpet freedom for the pilot. It also looks super cool. But it means those big props are the first thing to hit the ground in an off-kilter touchdown. They'll also kick up a ton of dirt, dust, stones and grass if you attempt to take off or land anywhere but a clean, level surface.

The Hoversurf Scorpion's large wooden props
The Hoversurf Scorpion's large wooden props

Using just four props leaves basically zero redundancy in case of motor or electronic stability control (ESC) failure, which would likely see it flip over and drop out of the sky. Such large props will be slower to respond to stabilization inputs than smaller units, potentially making for a lurchy ride when the Scorpion encounters windy skies.

And we haven't even touched on how close those damn props are to the rider's legs, and how flimsy the protective barriers are between large, quickly rotating propeller and soft, tender leg meat.

At least they seem to be wooden props and not lightweight carbon, with its tendency to shatter rather than deform.

Hoversurf Scorpion: hoverbike pilot narrowly avoids banging his head on the roof beams of the factory
Hoversurf Scorpion: hoverbike pilot narrowly avoids banging his head on the roof beams of the factory

Hoversurf views the Scorpion as an early prototype of a potential adventure sport machine. But the company also has aspirations to produce and operate a VTOL air taxi service (maybe inspired by the eHang 184), as well as heavy lift, unmanned versions of a Scorpion-style airframe that could lug between 90 and 2,500 kg (around 200 to 5,500 lb) worth of cargo.

Hoversurf's vision for a VTOL multirotor air taxi
Hoversurf's vision for a VTOL multirotor air taxi

These are exciting times. The early stages of electric aviation, manned multicopters, consumer drone technology and VTOL air taxi services put the idea of three-dimensional commuting in a Jetsons-style flying car closer within reach than ever before. There's a real sense that this stuff will happen – and on a commercial scale – not only within our lifetime, but within the next decade or two.

After all, five years ago, multicopter drones were inches across, fringe R/C tech built in the garage workshops of uber-geek hobbyists. But the pace of development has been furious. Now they're already flying around in fields and warehouses with people in them. Slightly crazy people, but then, there's been no shortage of craziness in the history of human aviation.

Watch this space!

Source: Hoversurf

18 comments
riczero-b
Not only a multirotor but a mutilater too.....
ikarus342000
This thing is less crasy as the thing you was showing some times ago with an "airtaxi" in Dubay. On this craft, the props where also "legchoppers" mounted low. No negative comment about the danger of the props there from your side then. I do not understand anyway why so many designs have to props there. When the props are mounted above the structure, The crafts would be more easy to make autostable, because of a lower meta centric. But it is an interesting development in these crafts and you right something like this but more practical will be coming.
Brian M
Being a pilot of one of these things helps if you can suspend your belief in gravity or have zero imagination....
IvanTeo
will the legs be sliced off if he falls?
Grumpyrelic
The people who drive cars on "frozen" rivers in the spring, the ATV drivers who don't use a helmet, the people who don't use seat belts and the operator of this medeval inquisition contraption all share something in comon and the older I get the more I can appreciate them. We like to call them "DONORS" Just keep them comimg - I might soon need a liver or a kidney.
VincentWolf
Scary to be right in the middle of 4 rapidly moving blades. No way I would ride this thing.
CraigAllenCorson
Has no one yet thought to use ducted fans on these things, rather than open propellers? Seems like amputation would be much less of a hazard, with the added benefit that a ducted fan is more efficient. Carbon fiber could make the ducts very light weight, and the props could also be carbon, since they'd be protected from hitting objects or terrain and shattering.
wle
how many horsepowers or kilowatts does it take, just to hover?
Expanded Viewpoint
Boy, just LOOKING at that thing before he even fired it up gave me a severe case of the heebie jeebies on top of the willies! Oh clutch the family jewels! Truly cringe worthy for sure! Like they couldn't come up with some semi-circle shields made out of metal or carbon fiber to mount between the legs and the blades? Why were they not thinking here? Or maybe place a band around the blade tips and use 4 blades instead of only 2? That would increase the blade area by 100% with very little added weight penalty.
VincentBrennan
For almost 100 years there has been a debate about the difference in high wing (Cessna 152,172) low wing (Piper Cheorkee, Beech Bonanza) stability. This contraption has such a high "roll center" as to be almost ridiculous. Get it leaned over just a tiny bit too much it is going to keep right on rolling. Of course I am leaving out that it might have computer controls to keep that lean angle from happening but my desk top has crashed too many times for me to trust that idea on something like this. Then the one idiot gets on the thing w/o helmet. Donors indeed!