Flying to work

iStock_000015424842Small Sometimes a look into the future can be a scary thing. Not only has it become a bit too overwhelming to keep track of all the latest technological developments, some of them just seem to be science fiction material rather than based on reality. Automated driving has reached an advanced testing phase by now and will probably hit the market in some time. Can you imagine being picked up and driven around by a car without a driver? Well, imagine being picked up by a helicopter and flown around – without a pilot. It’s in the making.

It’s time to decongest

The European Union (EU) has been bullied for its hesitance in jumping on the latest (mostly digital) technology bandwagon. All major players are situated elsewhere raising questions as to how the EU is supposed to play a role in a more and more technologised world. Called the Seventh Framework Programme, it is the EU’s attempt to finance high-class European research in various scientific spheres. And this one could be a game changer: since 2011, the EU has been financing a mobility project called myCopter, a fully automatic personal aerial transportation system.[1] Six major European research institutes – among them the Max Planck Institute of Biological Cybernetics or Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH) - have taken on the challenge to create a machine that flies around carrying one to two people without them actually moving a finger. Obviously, such a system will have an immense direct impact on the whole of society. First of all, what’s the need for myCopter? Research by New York University suggests that between now and 2050 the number of people living in cities will climb from 3.9 billion to 6.3 billion. Urban dwellers will increase tremendously over the next few decades where growth will be seen in developed countries. The incentive is clear – congestion of urban traffic costs time, resources and thus lots and lots of money. Ground based transportation does not provide the means of mobility to support the kind of future urbanisation we’re going to witness during the next years to come. Thus, it is about time to try out technology that allows for decongestion.


The myCopter is far from being in its final developmental phase, however, the project’s efforts are promising: first of all, the cooperation sees a team of researchers, engineers, designers and business advisors working together to avoid ignoring any important detail of this amazing endeavour. “The machines must be able to launch vertically, they must be as silent as possible and require very little training to operate so that everyone can use them,” says Heinrich Bülthoff, head of the project and director of the Max Planck Institute of Biological Cybernetics, Tubingen (Germany) .[2] They also need complex scanning technology to manoeuvre through the environment, avoid collision, launch or land. The team will take its time, which is the only sensible way for a gigantic project like this to become a true success. Finally, the helicopter-like flying machines will need energy...myCopter prototypes will be electric but also feature an onboard Diesel engine to recharge the battery in the air if necessary. This is another victory for a future of electric and decongested mobility.

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