Drones as Personal Transportation Devices
In 2003, when Forbes published an article about personal aviation, they were talking about small planes taking off and landing in small airports and costing at least $200,000. All of the technical innovations the authors could envision involved expensive small jets and small airlines that served executive travel.
In 2016, the meaning of personal aviation has begun to change. NASA has been providing funding under its Centennial Challenges program to encourage the development of something new, the Personal Air Vehicle (PAV).
PAVs is the conceptualization of a new generation of small aircraft
- whose operation is simplified like driving a car,
- that can travel between 150 and 200 mph,
- with a range up to 800 miles,
- to land on a short runway that can be constructed in a residential neighborhood.
Development of POVs has been slow because the problems of safety and public acceptance are legion.
This year, New Zealand’s Martin Aircraft Company is testing a full-scale prototype of a flying jetpack that is worn like a backpack and can keep the pilot aloft for 30 minutes or so, reaching speeds of 160 mph. The cost of this one-person aviation device is projected to be around $200.000.
At least one company is working on a prototype of small personal helicopter designs with wings that give it extra lift. The 4 place PAV has a 45 foot rotor and wingspan. This aircraft only vaguely fits in the category of PAVs.
A Toronto area startup company, Airvinci, is actually paving the way to personal aviation with its unique helicopter design. It stands vertically, like a rocket with the ducted rotor on top.
The Airvinci craft is actually a large helicopter dronecontact us that comes with a passenger compartment (which can be replaced with a cargo compartment). It uses a ducted rotor for lift, so that it’s total footprint is smaller than 7 feet. It is designed to fit in an average garage. Since it takes off vertically, there is no need for a runway. It is designed to take off and land in an average driveway.
The PAV is powered by jet fuel. It is expected to reach a maximum altitude of 12,500 feet and carry 120 kilograms (264 pounds) and stay aloft for one-hour flights.
In its current conceptualization, the Airvinci copter is designed to be controlled from the ground like a drone. It will start out as personal aviation as a service. Costs will be charged to a credit card. A passenger will order a flight using a smartphone app. Once the helicopter arrives at the helicopter stand, the passenger enters the passenger compartment and is instructed by radio by a ground controller who enters flight instructions into the helicopter’s automation system.
If the passenger has an ultra-light pilot’s license, he or she can pilot the craft autonomously. The ground instructor will monitor the flight. The system might modify the pilot’s flight plan to account for special conditions in flight rules for the territory the vehicle travels over.
Tarek Ibrahim, Airvinci founder, says the first drone helicopter is to be ready to fly by June 2016. The company is preparing to launch a backpack helicopter device in 2017. These helicopters will be able to revolutionize urban life. It will make daily commuting fast and comfortable. Since it is controlled from the ground, it can take people aloft for skydiving. The helicopter can hover in position until the diver lands, then it can meet the diver where he or she landed.
Ibrahim’s home town paper, The Mississauga Metrolandmedia News (June 2016) quotes Ibrahim as saying, “Initially, I just wanted to build something that I could use to fly in.” Ibrahim acknowledges that cars are great but the roads are getting too congested.
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