Urban Transport

EU project looks to the future of personal air transport

An envisioned Personal Aerial Vehicle illustrates what our city skies could soon look like (Image by Gareth Padfield, Flight Stability and Control)
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 concept PAV cockpit (Image by Gareth Padfield, Flight Stability and Control)
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A concept PAV cockpit (Image by Gareth Padfield, Flight Stability and Control)
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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An envisioned Personal Aerial Vehicle illustrates what our city skies could soon look like (Image by Gareth Padfield, Flight Stability and Control)
myCopter HeliFlight R Simulator (Image by myCopter)
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myCopter HeliFlight R Simulator (Image by myCopter)
The Flying Helicopter Simulator (Image by Deutsches Zentrum Luft-und Raumfahrt)
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The Flying Helicopter Simulator (Image by Deutsches Zentrum Luft-und Raumfahrt)
myCopter CyberMotion Simulator (Image by myCopter)
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myCopter CyberMotion Simulator (Image by myCopter)
myCopter Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (Image from myCopter)
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myCopter Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (Image from myCopter)
Quadcopter (Image from myCopter)
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Quadcopter (Image from myCopter)
myCopter project milestones (Image from myCopter)
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myCopter project milestones (Image from myCopter)
The CyberMotion Simulator for human-in-the-loop experiments (Image by Max-Planck-Institut biologische Kybernetik)
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The CyberMotion Simulator for human-in-the-loop experiments (Image by Max-Planck-Institut biologische Kybernetik)
A pilot flying the HELIFLIGHT-R simulator (Image by The Univesity of Liverpool)
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A pilot flying the HELIFLIGHT-R simulator (Image by The Univesity of Liverpool)
A pilot flying the Flying Helicopter Simulator (Image by Deutsches Zentrum, Luft- und Raumfahrt)
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A pilot flying the Flying Helicopter Simulator (Image by Deutsches Zentrum, Luft- und Raumfahrt)
Computer vision algorithms for terrain detection (Copyright cvlab.epfl.ch)
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Computer vision algorithms for terrain detection (Copyright cvlab.epfl.ch)
Simulation of a swarm of vehicles (Copyright lis.epfl.ch)
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Simulation of a swarm of vehicles (Copyright lis.epfl.ch)
An envisioned human-machine interface (Image by Deutsches Zentrum, Luft- und Raumfahrt)
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An envisioned human-machine interface (Image by Deutsches Zentrum, Luft- und Raumfahrt)

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)
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.

24 comments
Todd Dunning
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.
Slowburn
It does not look to have a no-power safe landing mode, unlike a conventional helicopter.
Paul Robertson
possibly an automatic close to the rotor ports could complete the wing and allow gliding.
Foxy1968
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.
Bill Bennett
parachute or SPLAT no power landing?
wolfdoctor
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.
Artisteroi
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.
Griffin
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.
Facebook User
welcome back past! i never thought you would stick around for soooo long.
bill
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.