The Future, Coming Soon!: Aeroflex Hoverbike by 2017

aerofex-hover-bike-prototypeThe Aerofex’s hoverbike made a pretty big splash when the Californian company showed off its working prototype back in 2012. But since that time, tech enthusiasts and futurists (not to mention fans of Stars Wars and sci-fi in general) heard nary a peep from the company for almost two years. Luckily, Aerofex has finally broken its silence and announced a launch date and a price for its hovering vehicle. According to its website, it will be ready to ship by 2017, and cost a robust $85,000 a vehicle.

In its current form, the Aero-X is capable of carrying a load of up to 140kg (310 pounds), has seating for two, and can run for 1 hour 15 minutes on a full tank of petrol. Its two wheels are ducted rotors with carbon fibre blades, which operate in a similar manner to the open rotor of a helicopter with tighter control. And in addition to land, it can also fly over water. So while it is not a practical replacement for everyday vehicles, it can certainly occupy the same area profile as a small car.

aeroflex_topAnd – do I even need to say it? – it’s a freaking hoverbike! In the last two years, the company has been working on improving the vehicle’s stability and coupling – a phenomenon whereby rotor vehicles may pitch in the direction of the rotors’ spin. It has filed several patents for its solutions and looked towards quadcopters to solve the problem of wind, using gyroscopes and accelerometers communicating with an on-board computer to compensate for windy conditions.

User-friendliness has also figured very heavily into the design, with handlebar controls for intuitive steering and safety features that keep the driver from flying too high or too fast. Both of these features would drain its fuel more quickly, but they ensure a greater degree of user-safety. This also helps it comply with the US Federal Aviation Administration’s guidelines, which require a pilot’s license for anyone operating a vehicle above an altitude of 3.7 metres (12.1 feet).

aeroflex_sideSo if you have that $85,000 kicking around (and a pilots license), you can reserve yours now for a refundable deposit of $5,000. A product statement and some basic specs have also been made available on the website. According to the commercial description:

Where you’re going, there are no roads. That’s why you need the Aero-X, a vehicle that makes low-altitude flight realistic and affordable. Flying up to 3 metres (10 feet) off the ground at 45mph (72kph), the Aero-X is unlike any vehicle you’ve seen. It’s a hovercraft that rides like a motorcycle — an off road vehicle that gets you off the ground.

I can certainly see the potential for this technology, and I imagine DARPA or some other military contractor is going to be knocking on Aeroflex’s door real soon, looking for a militarized version that they can send into dirty and dangerous areas, either to pick up wounded, transport gear, or diffuse landmines. We’re talking hoverbikes, people. Only a matter of time before the armed forces decide they want these latest toys!

Click here to go to the company website and get the full run down on the bike. And be sure to check out these videos from the company website, where we see the Aeroflex going through field tests:

 


Sources: cnet.com, cbc.ca, aerofex.com

Space Tourism: The World View Balloon

near-space_balloonWhen the Space Age began, some five decades ago, there were many who predicted that commercial space flight would follow shortly thereafter. This included everything from passenger flights into space, orbital space stations, and even space tourism. Naturally, these hopes seem quite naive in hindsight, but recent events are making them seem feasible once more.

Consider Virgin Galactic, a commercial aerospace carrier that will begin taking passengers into Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) beginning next year. And there’s Inspiration Mars, a private company that wants to send a couple on a round trip to visit the Red Planet. And now, there’s World View Enterprises, a company that plans to send to start sending passengers on a near-space balloon ride beginning in 2016.

near-space_balloon1Based in Tucson, Arizona, World View is a start-up that is looking to entice people into the budding field of space tourism by offering people a chance to get a taste of space without actually going there. Going into space is defined as traveling 100 km (62 miles) from the Earth’s surface, whereas their balloon ride will take passengers to a height of 30 km (18.6 miles), where they will be treated to a spectacular view of the Earth

World View Enterprises recently obtained approval from the US Federal Aviation Administration for its proposed balloon experiences, which will cost US $75,000 a ride, and are projected to begin in 2016. Each flight will consist of two balloon pilots and up to six passengers, which will be contained within a cylindrical capsule that comes equipped with heating and its own air-supply.

near-space_balloon2According to the company’s plan, the capsule – which measures 6 meters in length and 3 in width (approx. 20 x 10 feet) – will be deployed below a parasail (used for recovery) and tethered to a 400,000 cubic meter (14 million cubic ft) helium balloon, which will provide the lift needed to bring the capsule and its occupants to 30 km in altitude or Low-Earth Orbit.

Might sound a little dangerous to some, but the FAA has determined that World View’s design meets the engineering and environmental challenges posed by Low-Earth Orbit. They stressed that the capsule be designed and tested as if it were going to have long-term exposure in space, even though it will not exceed altitudes much above 30 km, and assigned it a safety factor of 1.4 – the same as that required of manned space systems.

near-space_balloon5The flight itself is projected to last about four hours, with the ascent taking 1.5-2 hours. The capsule will then remain at an altitude of 30 km for about two hours, during which time the semi-space tourists will be free to move about the cabin and take in the view. Unfortunately, they will not experience weightlessness during this period.

That’s comes after, when the capsule is cut off from the balloon and begins to fall towards Earth. Once it gains enough speed, the parafoil will provide sufficient lift to slow the descent and bring the passengers in for a safe, controlled landing. Before touching down, the capsule will deploy a set of skids and lands much the same way a paraglider does.

near-space_balloon4All in all, the balloon ride being suggested by World View does appear to hit many of the key points on the space tourism agenda. These include seeing black sky and the curvature of the Earth, and having a view of the planet that only astronauts are ever treated to. That may very well add up to an experience that is as good as being in space without technically getting there.

The only question is, will enough passengers line up for an amazing day’s flight that costs a startling $75K? Only time will tell. One thing is fore sure though. The dream of space tourism appears to finally be upon us, though it is a few decades late in coming. Today’s dreams do tend to become tomorrow’s reality, though they sometimes take longer than expected.

And be sure to enjoy this promotional video from World View Enterprises showing their concept in action:


Sources: gizmag.com, fastcodesign.com,