Topping many holiday wish lists these days are quadcopter drones, remote-controlled helicopters with four rotors that can take off and land vertically, travel in any direction, and hover. Inspired by those flying machines, a German company is building life-size versions that humans can travel in—and that could change the face of public urban transportation as we know it.
Alexander Sosel, cofounder and managing director of e-volo, the company behind the revolutionary flying machine, says that the idea essentially grew out of a dad’s daydream.
“Stefan [Wolf], my business partner, wanted to buy a toy helicopter for his son,” Sosel says on the line from Karlsruhe, Germany. “He just thought, ‘why can’t we scale it up to an aircraft?’”
The two did just that, pooling their talents to devise what’s today known as the Volocopter, an electric multicopter. Sosel is a civil engineer, paraglider, and entrepreneur who came up with the chopper’s design; Wolf is a software developer with experience in industrial automation who developed its technical workings.
The electric vehicles operate on batteries, microprocessors, and sensors. Pitch adjustment, gliding angle, stalling, and other challenging aeronautic manoeuvres are all handled through the use of a simple joystick.
Its makers say the Volocopter is even safer than existing airplanes: multiple safety-relevant components mutually monitor each other and compensate for the malfunction of individual components. Even if several motors cease functioning, the pilot can continue flying and land, Sosel says. The machine stabilizes itself during turbulence due to its automatic altitude control. However, it still comes complete with a full parachute for “incorrigible pessimists”, as the company’s website puts it.”
The company successfully completed Volocopter’s first manned flight in 2011. Since then, it has been developing various models and sizes. While prices are still being determined, the company is looking at a range between 250,000 and 350,000 Euros for a two-seated personal chopper.
Aside from making the skies more accessible to people who have neither the patience nor time for helicopter lessons, e-volo has high hopes for its product. Currently certified to fly to and from all airports throughout Germany, the Volocopter could transform the way people worldwide get around. Think real-life Jetsons.
With limited land available to build more and more roadways, and the toll that oil-powered cars and traffic take on the environment, Sosel says the only sustainable way to move the masses is by looking up.
“We believe that in the future, mobility will change a lot,” he says. “Public transportation is going to be in the air. We want to be one of the solutions. We don’t want to sell one or two to hobbyists; we want to sell a fleet to cities for public transport.”
As seen in the November/December 2016 issue.
Written by Gail Johnson
Images by E-VOLO