Airspeeder on track to launch its first flying car after successful test flight
From Jetsons and Back To The Future to Blade Runner and The Fifth Element, flying cars have long been part of popular culture’s vision of the future.
Take a look out of the window, though, and the humble automobile remains frustratingly grounded.
Now Matt Pearson, founder of Airspeeder, is doing his best to change that.
Last month, the Adelaide-based company completed the first unmanned test flights of its Alauda Mk3 eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) in the deserts of South Australia, with a squadron of brave test pilots waiting to take to the skies in 2022.
Pearson, 34, who is also chief operations officer of Fleet, a company that’s soon to launch its sixth satellite into orbit, has been dreaming of these days since he was a child — but he wasn’t able to put his plan into action until 2019, when he announced his intentions to launch a race series for electric flying cars.
Measuring over four metres long with dual propellers at each corner of the carbon-fibre chassis, the Mk3 looks more like a giant drone than any of the cars your neighbours have on their driveways.
But Alauda’s designers were inspired by the sleek single-seater racers of the 1950s and ’60s.
While those would occasionally take off by accident, the Mk3 is designed to zoom about at between ten and 40 metres off the ground, although it can reach altitudes of up to 500 metres.
That’s thanks to 320kW of electric power and an unmanned weight of just 130kg, which gives a top speed of 125mph and a thrust-to-weight ratio of 3.5 — significantly more than an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet.
The battery lasts for only 15 minutes but Airspeeder’s pit crew has managed to get a battery-change down to 20 seconds so with a couple of stops, it can take part in races of up to 45 minutes.
The first unmanned races, the Exa Series, are due to take place before the end of the year, with remote pilots taking control via full-size simulator-style rigs that mimic an Airspeeder’s cockpit.
Pearson says it’s ‘very similar’ to flying a drone, with only a couple of days’ practice needed for a new pilot to get to grips with the controls — although working out the exact configuration of those controls is one of the aims of the Exa Series.
‘We didn’t want to create something where a new pilot is going to take three months to become proficient,’ he says over Zoom from Airspeeder’s HQ, a framed poster for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey on the wall behind him. ‘You want it to be as easy, if not easier, than driving a car.’
In the pilot’s seat of the aircraft itself will be one of the ‘aviators’ — a physical telerobotic avatar designed to represent a human participant. Each one is covered in sensors and includes a camera that acts as the eyes of the pilot on the ground.
‘We want to gather a whole lot of data on the stresses that will be on the human frame,’ Pearson says. ‘The aviator is kind of a crash test dummy but it’s more than that because it’s actually linked to the pilot, so as the pilot moves their head, the aviator also moves its head in real time.’
Where in the world?
Airspeeder races will take place on augmented reality ‘sky tracks’, which means that only the pilots and those watching their onboard cameras will be able to see them, but this also gives Pearson almost complete freedom when it comes to choosing where in the world to stage each one. He has visions of racing all across the globe, using the most breathtaking landscapes and landmarks as backdrops.
‘We have no impact so we can really do anything,’ he says. ‘I’ve always liked the idea of having a race that’s over the sea, over land and up a cliff face. I want to go to some of the most beautiful places in the world and stage races no one’s ever seen before.’
It’s easy to imagine a pack of Airspeeders buzzing along the Great Wall of China, around the Pyramids of Giza or over Machu Picchu in Peru. And while Airspeeder is yet to confirm its race locations, asking spectators to travel to remote destinations wouldn’t be realistic — but that’s not going to be a problem.
‘We’re designing the sport around the technologies and media that we have today,’ says Pearson, which means online streaming rather than large crowds — although there will be a small number of VIP guests in attendance. ‘In the far future that could start to change as everyone understands the races and maybe the locations become more established as destinations.’
The idea of a swarm of giant drones going prop-to-prop overhead might sound a little dangerous but each one is fitted with technology designed to keep the racing close without ending in disaster. Radar, lidar, machine vision and 5G connectivity create ‘virtual force fields’ around the Airspeeder to prevent collisions and still ensure the pilots can go all-out to win.
This isn’t only important for protecting pilots but could also play a vital part in making flying cars a going concern in our cities. Financial services firm Morgan Stanley predicts that the eVTOL sector will be worth US$1.5 trillion by 2040 and Pearson hopes Airspeeder will help to make that happen.
‘Racing is usually where any new technology in mobility is going to be seen first and it’s actually quite a benign environment for testing new technologies,’ he says. ‘The difficulty with autonomous cars on the ground is that you’ve got to deal with a whole lot of variables. In the air it’s an order of magnitude simpler because there are less things to worry about.’
For some, though, flying cars will just be the stuff of sci-fi until they’re gliding past our kitchen windows. Pearson understands that but he’s convinced it’s time to start believing.
‘It’s one of those technologies that is always five years away and I think people get disheartened by that,’ he says. ‘We all thought it would be here by now and we’ve all heard the promises before. That’s why this moment is so important — because it actually is happening now.’
UP, UP AND AWAY: MORE FLYING CARS
Klein Vision AirCar
In June, Klein Vision’s AirCar prototype made the 35-minute flight between Nitra and Bratislava in Slovakia, switched from plane mode to car mode (which takes about three minutes) and was driven into the city centre.
It has now completed more than 40 hours of test flights.
Due to take off in 2023, the AeroMobil has a 300hp hybrid engine that gives it a flying range of up to 460 miles and a driving range of about 320 miles. With the wings out it measures 30ft across, so you’ll want to switch to drive mode before finding somewhere to park.
Pal-V’s three-wheeled Liberty can be converted into a gyrocopter that can reach altitudes of up to 3,500m and spend up to 4.3 hours in the sky.
Last year it achieved road-legal status in the EU, so keep an eye out for it next time you’re in its home country of the Netherlands.
Joby Aviation Air Taxi
With six propellers and four seats (plus one for the pilot), Joby Aviation’s 200mph creation can cover 150 miles, which makes it much faster than our old-fashioned ground taxis.
Toyota recently invested $394million in the company, which plans to launch its service in 2024.
Ask the Car Doctor
What is AdBlue?
CAZOO automotive writer Graham King says: AdBlue is a fluid that helps reduce harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from diesel cars. NOx is nasty stuff linked to respiratory problems in people who live in areas with lots of traffic.
Here’s how AdBlue works: you or a mechanic pours it into a special tank in your car, usually through a small filler cap next to the main fuel cap. When the engine’s running, the AdBlue is automatically injected into your car’s exhaust and reacts with the NOx to break it down into harmless nitrogen and water vapour.
Many diesel cars sold new since 2015 use AdBlue but older ones don’t. You’ll know if yours does because there’ll be an extra filler cap but if in doubt, check the handbook.
How to get your Metro newspaper fix
Metro newspaper is still available for you to pick up every weekday morning or you can download our app for all your favourite news, features, puzzles… and the exclusive evening edition!
Download the Metro newspaper app for free on App Store and Google Play
Source: Read Full Article