“We have gone for something that is capable of vertical lift, rather than having to drive to your local airfield, and requiring a runway,” says Dr Jump
“Vertical lift generally means rotors of some kind. We don’t believe the future is us all flying around in helicopters. You don’t really want lots of whirling rotors flying in your suburbs, so that really drives you to ducted fans.”
The team also want to reduce the level of skill required to operate an aircraft - the goal being a “highway in the sky”, where an individual is able to fly from point to point with the ease of driving an automobile. “Imagine getting in with your iPad, and plugging it in and just telling it where to go and away you go,” says Dr Jump.
The team believes this will require “an effective human machine interface” to allow people to easily control the vehicle. A simulator set up at the lab in Liverpool with just two levers shows the level of simplicity they are aiming for. One controls altitude, or up-and-down, and another controls direction. “If you can remember left and right that’s all you need to know,” Mark White, flight simulation laboratory manager of myCopter, recently told Discovery on the BBC World Service. The team are currently recruiting for a group of novice ‘pilots’ to test their design.
However, they will not be flying on their own. The team intends to draw on drone technology to automate as much of the flying as possible. Current fly-by-wire technology, as well as some of the features being used in the development of autonomous or robotic vehicles could all help fleets of these vehicles fly along predefined highways – and crucially avoid each other.
But perhaps the biggest problem the team aim to tackle are the regulatory and safety issues, as well as those of public opinion. “The technology is the easiest bit,” says Dr Jump.
Introducing flying cars raises a number of issues, many of which have probably already run through your mind. Who will govern where they fly? Will they interfere with planes? What will stop a drunk driver (flier?) crashing into my house?
“People get very annoyed by motorways at the bottom of their garden, what they will feel about motorways above their house?” he asks.
The team has until 2014 to answer that question. Then, could we finally begin to see the rise of the flying car?
When pressed about a likely launch date, the project scientists are reluctant to commit but have no doubts that it will come to pass.
“We are trying to apply rational scientific engineering approach to this problem” says Dr Jump. “What sounds strange and wonderful today can very often become tomorrow’s reality.”