Boeing-Sponsored GoFly Design Competition Selects 10 Passenger Drone Concept Winners

Boeing invested $2 million to find the most promising, viable passenger drone concepts to help make them a reality.

According to Mashable, Boeing invested $2 million in the GoFly design competition, which aims to find the most promising passenger drone concepts and financially nurture them to tangible, eventual implementation. GoFly just selected 10 winners from hundreds of submissions, with the caveats being that the drone must be able to carry a person for 20 miles without refueling or recharging, and needs to include vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities.  

Passenger drones are becoming increasingly popular in the unmanned aerial vehicle industry these days, with competition springing up on a frequent, regular basis. From Volocopter demonstrating the safety and efficiency of its drone by taking Dubai’s Crown Prince on a five-minute trip, to China’s Ehang 184 being successfully tested over a thousand times, this nascent niche industry in the drone world is rapidly becoming its own, subsidized entity. In regards to Boeing, itself, the aviation giant expects passenger drones to standardize themselves into western society within 10 years, which might explain their multi-million dollar sponsorship of GoFly’s competition.

With NASA and Uber partnering to develop a safe and cohesive passenger drone traffic management system, Boeing’s notion that the next 10 years will actually bring about flying taxis in our skies doesn’t seem as science-fiction-based as it once did. Of course, there is still a vast amount of work to be done in this regard, comprised of lessening the risk-averse legislative approach, and constructing safety-oriented management systems like the one mentioned above. In the meantime, however, there are some ingenious creative minds working on concepts and designs of the future. 

The winning design teams reach far and wide across the globe, with companies, groups, and universities from Latvia, Holland, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S. receiving an initial round of funding. Aesthetically, these couldn’t be more disparate. U.S. company Trek Aerospace’s Flykart 2, for example, is a 10-rotor, electric-powered drone with an open cockpit that looks more like a dentist’s chair than an aerial vehicle. Dutch company Silverwing’s S1 drone, meanwhile, resembles a racing motorcycle where the passenger sits atop, leaning forward, ready to zip through the skies, similar to U.S. team Scoop’s Pegasus 1, as the name would naturally imply. 

The Mamba is a hexacopter, from a U.S. team that seems heavily inspired by biomimetic designs rooted in insects and snake biology. Georgia Tech’s Hummingbuzz is particularly inspired, as it resembles a large fan laid on its side, with a passenger capsule placed atop, making this the most futuristic-looking concept of the bunch. Texas A&M’s Harmony drone, meanwhile, is essentially a pod you’d stand upright in with your torso and head exposed to the elements as the drone would traverse the skies. 

GoFly is dispensing its Boeing-subsidized funds of $2 million through 2019, with this first round of 10 winners each receiving $20,000. The best four prototypes will then receive $50,000 next March, with the final, singular winner being determined by Boeing and receiving the remaining capital next fall.

We are still quite a ways away from seeing neighbors, friends and family members arrive at your doorstep with a personal passenger drone that they’d park in your yard. With volatile regulations, which fortunately seem to be leaning toward loosening their grip on commercial companies, privacy concerns, and general safety issues, it will take a decade at the very least before these machines actually take off. On the other hand, we’ve entered a new era where the very idea of a passenger drone is no longer child’s play, something you’d see in a cartoon, and more of a young industry that is being subsidized by established aviation corporations such as Boeing. That, perhaps, is the most exciting concept of all.