Till such time that flying cars become a reality, our fantasies of zipping around in air to get to office or dropping by at a friend’s remain castles in the air. Though if Passenger Drones have their way, we might be looking at a very different mode of short-distance travel soon — car-sized drones that are capable of carrying passengers. All yours for a hefty dent in wallet, of course.
The Passenger Drone (the name of the company as well as the product) might be size of a car, but is an incredibly lightweight 250 kg, batteries included. It is made of custom-created carbon fibre composites that make it structurally sound yet keep it light, with specially designed avionics and control systems. It can achieve speeds up to 70 to 80 kmph, and the maximum flight time is pegged at 20 to 25 minutes without a range extender. And while the Passenger Drone is equipped with two seats, its maximum payload of 120 kg means that they will have to be two rather slight passengers.
The vehicle is powered by 16 electric engines—as opposed to the fuel-guzzling internal combustion engines of helicopters—making it a low-noise, zero-emission and high-speed mode of travel compared to “anything else available on the marketplace”, says the company press release. There are no wires anywhere, except the main power cables, the drone running on fibre optics, from the joystick to the main control panel to the navigation screens.
And no, you don’t need to a certified pilot to fly the Passenger Drone—since it’s not an aeroplane. Manoeuvring the vehicle is very simple, whether in manual or autonomous mode. The passengers select their destination on the touchscreen display, and the custom-designed avionics software takes care of the rest, from autopilot mode to stabilisation functions, power management and primary flight display capabilities. Passengers can either sit by and let the drone fly them to their destination or use the fly-by- wire joystick for a manual override.
The Passenger Drone is also equipped with remote 4G telemetry, which means it can send flight information in real time, use real-time weather and terrain data, and use situational awareness and local air traffic display via ADS-B.
It can also be fully remote controlled through a ground control and monitoring centre, which would technically allow an operator based in America fly you safely around in India.
The first test flights of the Passenger Drone with actual passengers took place as recently as August 2017. So if you’re expecting to bypass the rush hour traffic and pilot your very own Passenger Drone to work any time soon, you’re out of luck. While it has the potential to seriously shake up traditional modes of transport in the future, it is an expensive proposition as of now—the Passenger
Drone will set you back by a cool $300,000 (about Rs 2 crore). Drone use regulations in different parts of the world are a work in progress as of now. Thus, it’s a safe bet that we won’t be seeing any traffic jams up in the air in the very near future.