The earlier, bi-copter version of the Hoverbike. Image: Malloy Aeronautics
Hoverbikes aren’t yet ready for your daily commute, but in pushing to get closer to that point UK-based company Malloy Aeronautics has perhaps made the next-best thing: a drone version. Drone 3 is a functioning drone in its own right, but it’s also a 1/3-sized scale model of MA's real, human-sized Hoverbike.
The Hoverbike has been in development for years, but the drone showcases the latest design shift to a quadcopter model, much like many of the existing consumer drones on the market. The company originally built the drone as a proof of concept for the real thing, but as they had a lot of public interest in their scale models, they realised it would make the perfect reward for their new Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to further develop the actual Hoverbike.
Inventor Chris Malloy claims the Hoverbike is the world’s first flying motorcycle. It’s actually classified as a helicopter: That is, it’s an aircraft, not just a hovercraft that buzzes along a bit over the ground. The company plans to start flight-testing the latest version of the bike in a few months, and will then build a final prototype to apply for certification from aviation authorities so that anyone could ride it (with sufficient training).
The bike shown in the video is the old bicopter design; the new one will look pretty much just like the drone, but bigger. The company explained that the move to a quadcopter design was mainly a matter of cost. “After extensive testing involving the manned vehicle and scale models, we moved to a proven quadcopter design, because with current technology we could not design a bi-copter cheap enough for safe and competitive sales,” the company told me in an email. “The bi-copter is an elegant solution and vehicle—however the available technology is not ready yet for a practical vehicle of this bi-copter design.”
The new prototype uses a patent-pending quad system of overlapping blades, which they say reduces weight and platform size (the bit in the middle of the blades, where you’d sit). There’s ducting around the propellers for obvious safety reasons.
The 1/3 scale drone. Image: Malloy Aeronautics
While it's still too early to apply for your hoverbike license, the scale model drone is a decent toy in itself. At just over a metre long, it’s controlled by a Pixhawk motor controller and can also fly along a set path or be used in a follow-me mode. Its platform is nearly 30cm long and it can carry around five kilos, which means it can do some useful (or at least fun) tricks. The campaign video shows it delivering a drink, pouring water on a barbecue, and serving as a plane for a parachuting teddy bear.
MA has useful applications in mind for their full-sized vehicle, too, and really, a helicopter might be a more accurate comparison than a motorbike. “The Hoverbike has been designed from the very beginning to replace conventional helicopters such as the Robinson R22 in everyday one man operational areas like cattle mustering and survey,” they explain on their site.
The full-size bike will be able to carry a 120kg payload, and like the drone you’ll be able to fold it down to a third of its size for transportation. It’s intended to be a cheaper, more practical helicopter for everything from search and rescue to farming; a “low level aerial workhorse with low on-going maintenance.”
And of course, it’s bound to make for a pretty sweet ride. The Hoverbike campaign aims to make £30,000 (just over $ 50,000), and you’ll need to pledge £595 ($ 1,000) to get a stripped-down version of the drone, or at least £715 ($ 1,200) for a ready-to-fly model.
More than anything, what the drone does is show that hoverbikes are more than just a sci-fi dream. As MA points out, none of the technology used to make the Hoverbike is really new—it just needs to be put together. I'll believe the full-sized version when I see it in action, but envisaging a giant drone makes it suddenly seem a lot more feasible.