Every self-respecting sci-fi flick has them: personal flying machines. To adults they beg the question of how they avoid accidents if they're all flying about as they damn well please; to kids they're a fantasy – that just got a lot closer. U.K.-based Malloy Aeronautics is gearing up to test its hoverbike, a manned - and very fast - quadcopter that the company says is capable of out-maneuvering a helicopter.
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It doesn't look like the oddly stereotyped flying cars or bikes of the future, though (don't sci-fi producers have any imagination?) If anything it looks sort of like a partial Olympic logo hovering on its side. The similarity to motorcycles is chiefly in that you perch on the thing alone.
A operating proof-of-concept model, a third of the real final size, is already gaining popularity with drone enthusiasts, the company says from its base in the English countryside.
The hoverbike – which the company envisions in both manned and remote-controlled forms - is also being designed to carry a much heavier payload than ordinary drones. Note though that between technological development and regulation, the manned version capable of taking to the skies may be years off. The hoverbike is the brainchild of engineer and helicopter pilot Chris Malloy.
"I've always been one to look at designs and see how I can make them better," he says. "And when I got my helicopter license I realized that the helicopter as a design has a lot of improvements that need to be made, and one of them is safety and reliability."
Copters are highly complex machines, he says. "My goal was to see where we could strip away the complexity and increase the safety, and that's basically where the hoverbike came from."
Engineers at Malloy Aeronautics are currently building the final prototype of the remote-controlled sort. Flight tests are expected in a few months.
The team plan to launch the hoverbike as an unmanned aerial vehicle, before securing aviation certification for the manned model. Meanwhile, the smaller model has proved popular with drone enthusiasts around the world and is contributing revenue towards the design and production of the full-sized version.
Marketing director Grant Stapleton explains that the manned hoverbike is designed to be flown like a helicopter. As such it will be subject to the same stringent testing as copters before a human can take to the skies.
"This hoverbike is a helicopter. It takes off like a helicopter, it flies and lands like a helicopter. It's designed to fly to an altitude of over 9,000ft and do so at over 100 knots," Stapleton says – which means 115 kilometers an hour, faster than the speed limit on Israeli highways. "It's much safer to be away from the ground where there isn't anything to hit in the air, and that's why it is designed as a helicopter," Stapleton says.
Of course, if they become popular, there will be something to hit in the air. There are also b-i-r-d-s, but don't tell anyone.
Safety is one area where the team claims the hoverbike has a clear advantage over the helicopter. "Rotor-strike is a major issue with helicopters. This here eliminates rotor-strike by protecting the propeller blades from the ground and other airborne obstacles," Stapleton says. "The helicopter is inherently complex; the hover bike is very simple. So, from a complexity issue the hoverbike is safer. And it's built to be robust and flown in environments that a typical helicopter would have trouble with."
Business Insider reports that Malloy received funding from the Kickstarter program.