This Drone-Inspired Multicopter Could Be the Flying Car You’ve Dreamed Of
Electrically-powered Volocopter promises to be easy as pie to fly—and it's already airborne.
The perennially-futuristic dream of a flying car may be edging closer to the present day—sort of. German company e-volo's drone-inspired flying machine, the two-seat Volocopter VC200, recently became the first certified multicopter to fly with a human on board, potentially ushering in an era when even us jabronis lacking pilot's licenses can zip through the skies.
“Compared to traditional aircraft, flying the Volocopter is so much easier for the pilot," says Jan Stumpf, CEO of Intel subsidiary Ascending Technologies, which has worked with e-volo since 2013, CEO of Intel subsidiary Ascending Technologies, which has worked with e-volo since 2013. “The Volocopter is super easy to fly, silent, and built with electrical simplicity."
By leveraging many of the technologies used by modern-day quadcopters and other small drones, the Volocopter makes flying a breeze. (No pun intended.) Packing 18 vertically-oriented, electrically-powered propellers, the myriad controls that make flying a traditional helicopter a royal pain in the ass have been condensed down to a single joystick. A battery of computers and programs helps keep the Volocopter steady in the air, with automatic attitude control and a stability system that can hold the multicopter level even without a hand on the stick. And should everything go tits-up on board, the mini-chopper can be flown via remote—or a parachute can be deployed, allowing it to settle gently to the ground.
So far, e-volo has only taken the Volocopter up to about 15 miles an hour, but the company says the aircraft will ultimately reach speeds above 60 mph. Currently, the VC200 can fly around for about 20 minutes, but the company hopes to raise that up to 60–90 minutes by integrating an internal combustion generator to keep the batteries topped off. For longer trips, the Volocopter—which weighs just shy of 1,000 pounds—can be folded up into a compact package capable of fitting on a trailer.
Of course, early access to the future doesn't come cheap. Florian Reuter, managing director for strategy and finance at e-volo, says he expects the Volocopter to go on sale in the United States and Germany in early 2018, at a price around €250,000—roughly $283,000 at current exchange rates. If that's a little pricey for you, stay tuned—the company eventually hopes to scale the VC200 both up and down, into larger and smaller manned and unmanned variants.
Oh one quick note: Be sure when you describe it to people, you don't call it the "Volvocopter." We made that mistake once or twice while writing this.