Boeing is currently offering $2 million prizes–like a $1 million top prize–to inventors of “safe, silent, ultra-compact, near-VTOL personal flying devices capable of flying 20 mph while carrying a single person.” VTOL stands for perpendicular take-off and landing, so meaning Boeing is searching for something more original than a conventional ultralight airplane. Boeing is correct that there is potential for technological breakthroughs here, but in the world of air travel, $1 million doesn’t get you quite far.
The idea of flying machines is hardly fresh. Private jetpacks have been around because at the 1960s. However they have always had severe selection and safety limits, preventing them from becoming widely used.
In the last few decades, however, there’s been some sign that this might be changing. Some individuals have lasted refining jet-pack technology. 1 inventor was called the British Iron Man because of his rocket lawsuit, although an experimental jet-powered hoverboard called the FlyBoard Air has been unveiled last year (it costs $250,000 and isn’t yet readily available to the public).
Nevertheless, the actual chance for private transportation technologies might be in the world of personal drones. The exact same technological trends that are on the cusp of hammering the auto sector–more powerful electric motors, batteries, and applications–will also be starting to affect the aviation sector.
A vital innovation here is the use of numerous propellers–eight, four, or perhaps more–instead of only one or two since you see on a conventional helicopter. This layout was made possible by more powerful batteries and lighter electrical motors, but it has also been empowered by better applications. Even a quadcopter would be problematic to get a human being to pilot when she had to manually control the power supplied to each motor the way a pilot does on a conventional aircraft. Rather, quadcopters and other contemporary electrical aircraft have applications that handles these low-level details automatically.
This makes those vehicles safer and more secure because simple batteries and propellers permit them to land gracefully even when some components malfunction. New technologies also make the possibility of a new generation of vehicles that individuals can safely fly much less training than is required for a conventional helicopter or small airplane.
This year, a startup funded by Google’s Larry Page known as Kitty Hawk unveiled a sort of flying jet skiing that may carry a single passenger aloft more than bodies of water. Numerous other startups–such as Lilium, Joby Aviation, and EHang–are working on all-electric, short-range vehicles that may take off and land vertically. Uber has ambitious plans to build a community of little electrical flying machines for intracity transportation.
While the concept of electrical aviation doesn’t look crazy, there are serious reasons to doubt that participants in the Boeing contest is going to be the ones to decode this nut that is technological. A large one is the size of the prize. One thousand dollars is a very small amount of money from the aviation industry. Larry Page has allegedly spent $100 million on Kitty Hawk, and several VTOL aircraft startups have raised thousands of dollars in venture funds. When you’ve got an idea for a viable personal flying machine, then that notion is worth a lot more than $1 million, and you might be better off going straight to venture capitalists.
On the flip side, not everyone has ready access to venture capital money, so the Boeing contest might offer an chance to an individual or small group to bring advanced design ideas to a bigger audience. Under the rules, inventors maintain rights to their creations, which makes them free to commercialize them after the competition is over.