Quadcopters are a popular choice of unmanned aerial vehicle by drone developers hoping to reduce the costs and improve on the safety record of helicopters.
Online retail giant Amazon hopes to offer delivery by drone in the United States by the end of 2016.
Now a Dutch software engineer is working on a quadcopter that he says will be able to deliver much more. Thorstin Crijns envisions a quadcopter that can transport passengers autonomously, without manual control.
“The main goal of this project is to create a system where passenger can sit in and automatically go to his desired location without manually driving it, so it should be done automatically. So imagine that the passenger sits here, enter destination on a touch screen and the drone will automatically take off and land there,” Crijns told Reuters.
“The biggest challenge is to make this entirely safe and entirely autonomous,” he added.
Crijns, based near Eindhoven in the south of the Netherlands, has built several small scale prototypes already. So far, he has managed to keep a passenger in the air for a ten second flight.
He hopes his quadcopter, named Quadro, would function like a conventional earth-bound taxi.
“What I envision is that government could use this transportation system, and a person could use a smart phone, call the drone, get in there and go to desired location,” he explained.
The Quadro’s twenty engines are powered by lithium battery and has an aluminum alloy structure. Crijns used the MultiWii Autopilot control system, a common choice for autonomous quadcopters, which he says helps stabilize the vehicle.
Crijns is confident his passenger quadcopter will take to the air in the future, although it may not be for some time.
“It’s not only about technological challenges, but also about awareness, people should trust this device, that’s also really important, and I think for all that to happen it will take 15 years or something,” he said.
He has started negotiations with the Dutch government for a flight permit, subject to fulfilling local safety requirements.
Crijns’ quadcopter is not the only personal flight vehicles under development. British-based Malloy Aeronautics has joined forces with U.S. firm SURVICE to build a quadcopter Hoverbike, with funding from the U.S. Department of Defense.
The Malloy vehicle has so far been built on a smaller scale to demonstrate its advanced stability and maneuverability. It can be controlled to fly autonomously on a pre-determined flight path, return to home, loiter and follow the controller. It also features a humanoid figure that can be attached to it, complete with mini-cam mounted in its head.
The Hoverbike, showcased at the 2015 Paris Air show features unique offset and overlapping rotor blades, designed to reduce weight and platform area. It has guards around the rotor blades to minimize rotor-strike.
The developers say the hoverbike’s low cost and practical size lends itself to operations such as search and rescue missions, first-responder emergency services, and cargo insertion into confined spaces.