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Researchers want you to change your car for a mini-helicopter
Thursday, 19 June 2014

Six institutions funded by the European Union are exploring the idea of small commuter helicopters to tackle city traffic. 

MyCopter
Image: myCopter

Swarms of flying cars hovering over cities has been a persistent image in sci-fi. We’ve seen them in TV shows like Hanna-Barbera’s The Jetsons and movies such as Blade Runner and The Fifth Element. But the truth is few people have taken them seriously as a solution for everyday transportation. Until now.

myCopter is a European government project that is studying the technical feasibility of small commuter helicopters. The main challenge is figuring out how to make personal choppers easy to fly for ordinary people. Scientists at the University of Liverpool have experimented with prototype flight simulators, testing MyCopter’s systems with people with no flying experience. 

Danny Hackim, a journalist for The New York Times, was recently offered a test drive on the simulator and this is what he said: “I don’t know how to fly and I’m not even a very enthusiastic driver, but I took off easily enough from what looked like a field surrounded by six houses in the English countryside. Then I followed a virtual aerial highway stretching out before me by flying through a series of purple squares spread across the simulated skyline.”

myCopter was conceived in 2007 by Heinrich H. Bülthoff from the Max Planck Institute, in Germany, after the European Union asked researchers for ideas that could inspire radical changes in current transportation systems. The rationale behind the project is pretty simple, as Mark D. White, the flight simulator laboratory manager, told The New York Times: “You have so many man-hours lost sitting in traffic jams, and you have a lot of space above us… Can you travel from your home to your city-center work location without getting stopped in traffic jams?”.  

The next phase of this project, which will likely begin next year if it gets sufficient funding, is collaborating with companies to generate potential designs. There are other challenges that need sorting out, such as determining how pilots will avoid crashing into each other and what type of physical infrastructure might be needed before we have thousands of personal helicopters flying over us. 

There is still a long way to go before myCopter becomes a reality, but a Jetsons-like city might be a reality in the not so distant future. 

 
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