Tech

Boeing’s passenger drone competition winners imagine wild new flying car designs

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The next major development in aerospace design isn’t focused on airplanes, but rather personal flying vehicles — yes flying cars. These designs typically go far beyond usual sci-fi sketches and flesh out concepts that could one day be flying overhead. Maybe. Eventually. Probably. 

The Boeing-sponsored design competition GoFly recently selected 10 winners out of hundreds of submissions for the best designs to carry a person 20 miles without refueling or recharging and with a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capability. That means the vehicles don’t need a runway or a lot of space to get airborne.

The winners have been announced just one month after Uber laid out its plans for a flying taxi service with demos set for take-off in 2020 in Los Angeles. While ambitious and fairly unrealistic because of regulatory constraints, Uber’s plans are thrusting the entire aviation community into flying car development. Companies are exploring VTOLs and battery-powered passenger drones that fly at an altitude of about 1,000 feet for short-haul flights that could speed up mega-commute times.

Here are the top 10 designs from teams based all over the world, including Latvia, the Netherlands, Japan, United Kingdom and the U.S. Some of the designs lean on a motorcycle aesthetic, others are all-electric, and all vary in the number of rotor blades used to get the vehicle up and going with some designs incorporating five or even 10 rotors. 

An open cockpit layout and 10-rotor design is included in this electric-powered vehicle from an American team.

An open cockpit layout and 10-rotor design is included in this electric-powered vehicle from an American team.

A Dutch team builds a canard-winged design on a vehicle that looks like a motorcycle with two electric motors. It moves 90 degrees during take-off.

A Dutch team builds a canard-winged design on a vehicle that looks like a motorcycle with two electric motors. It moves 90 degrees during take-off.

This U.S. team has a vehicle with a 70-knot cruise speed.

This U.S. team has a vehicle with a 70-knot cruise speed.

The U.S.-based Mamba is a hexcopter.

The U.S.-based Mamba is a hexcopter.

This UK design includes a five-rotor airbike.

This UK design includes a five-rotor airbike.

Hailingh from Georgia Tech, this team designed an electric, motorcycle-shaped vehicle.

Hailingh from Georgia Tech, this team designed an electric, motorcycle-shaped vehicle.

Coming to a neighborhood near you: Texas A&M's all-electric compact craft.

Coming to a neighborhood near you: Texas A&M’s all-electric compact craft.

This Latvian design has a tilt rotor and looks like a souped-up bicycle.

This Latvian design has a tilt rotor and looks like a souped-up bicycle.

The blue Sparrow comes from  students and faculty at Penn State.

The blue Sparrow comes from  students and faculty at Penn State.

Another motorcycle-reminiscent design from a team in Japan.

Another motorcycle-reminiscent design from a team in Japan.

Now it’s onto the next part of the competition: building these ideas into functional, working aircrafts. The competition is still open to new submissions even if teams didn’t submit or win a vehicle design.

The competition is doling out about $2 million in awards through 2019. For this first round, the 10 winners brought home $20,000 prizes. The four best built-out prototypes will win $50,000 each in March 2019. The grand prize winner will test out the Boeing-determined best personal flying craft in fall 2019. When it comes to building these new passenger drones, the sky’s the limit.

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