6 November 2011

The E-volo – Manned Multicopter is a Show Stopper

Until this week if you owned an electric multicopter it was small, unmanned and sold to you as a toy (or if you are in the military a means by which to spy upon potential threats). This week may change all of that. A group of German engineers have successfully developed the first multicopter which can carry a man. It is battery powered and the world's first flight with a manned e-powered multicopter has now taken place.

The inventors, Thomas Senkel, Stephan Wolf and Alexander Zosel (pictured above with Senkel as pilot), hope that their joystick controlled multicopter, which they call the E-volo, will revolutionize transport in the future. Even from the pictures you can see why this might be popular for recreational purposes alone. Who wouldn’t want to have a go on what looks like a space hopper with sixteen rotors, and is flown by using a joystick as if you are playing a videogame? So, if the pilot stops inputting directional instructions via the joystick the E-volo simply hovers. It’s as simple as that.

The e-volo measures in the region of five by five meters and has four jibs with 4 propellers each. Including the batteries the basic weight comes to only 80 kg, meaning that it is an ultra light aircraft. The 16 propellers give it with the required uplift and simultaneously guarantee the required safekeeping. Its creators believe that GPS technology can easily be integrated in to the controls making navigation much easier.

It has other advantages, too. It is battery powered which means it is eco-friendly and is as safe as air transport can get: it will land safely even if a quarter of its rotors fail and because they are below the pilot a parachute could even be used if needs be. Industrial uses are also obvious – the multicopter could be used for inspecting pipelines, checking wildlife habitats without intruding upon it and taking aerial photographs. Yet the technology is not with us yet for the E-volo to carry more than one person or, indeed, make flights of more than twenty minutes.

That does not downside Senkel (who made the flight) and his colleagues. They believe it is just a matter of time before flights of sixty minutes or longer are possible – and at a remarkably low price. A one hour flight would cost, in terms of energy, around 6 Euros (just over US$8) and because the E-volo has so few parts the upkeep would not be expensive either. The end of the petroleum century means that alternatives must be developed. Who knows what the future holds for the E-volo!

All photographs courtesy of E-volo. To see the E-volo in flight, watch the video below!