Moscow, Russia - It had to happen, we suppose. As battery-powered quadcopter drones became bigger and more powerful, with greater lift capacity, it was only a matter of time before somebody put a seat on one to create a hoverbike.
And that somebody was Moscow’s Alexander Atamanov, CEO of technology startup Hoversurf. Realising that the closest thing to flying that’s possible on wheels is riding a motorcycle, he based the design of the seat and controls on that of an enduro bike, with two small joysticks in place of handlebars, serving exactly the same purpose as the radio-control elvers on an unpiloted drone.
Of course, it’s never as simple as that. With the weight of the rider so far above the four rotors, the Scorpion platform is inherently unstable, and since it moves by tilting the entire platform in the desired direction of travel, the danger of an unplanned tip-over is all too real if the pilot is anything less than an expert.
So Hoversurf put huge effort into in-house software for full manual as well as automated and remote control to limit the angle of tilt, speed across ground (50km/h - which would be quite scary enough for most people, we thing) and height above ground.
What worries us, however, is those whirling blades right next to the rider’s ankles - the slightest mishap is going to cost you a foot at the very least, and a tip-over could see you sliced like polony in a deli if the hoverbike lands on top of you.
We thought that maybe the blades could be shrouded for safety with an external ring, but the Scorpion’s blades cross each other on the centreline, so that won’t work.
The Scorpion was test-flown under pilot control last week in a Moscow warehouse; apparently its batteries provide sufficient amperage for about 27 minutes of flying on a full charge. Atamanov is planning to take the prototype on a promotional tour of the United States, hoping to drum up orders from prospective customers (or should that be victims?) at about $150 000 (R1.95 million) each.
Trouble is, it looks so dangerous on the face of it that he might have trouble just getting permission for demo flights in safety-obsessed America.
Mind you, they said the same thing about the penny-farthing bicycle, the first horseless carriages, the Wright Flyer and Igor Sikorsky’s first helicopter, so we’ll try to keep an open mind - just don’t ask me to fly one.