Wouldn't it be nice if you could start your bike and fly to office without ever worrying about the traffic gridlock that envelops our cities? Or if a flying ambulance appeared from nowhere to rush victims in an accident at warp speed to the nearest hospital? What might seem a tale straight out of Hanna Barbara's 'The Jetsons' cartoon, is no more a mere pipe dream. Indeed, thanks to the vision of a few students at the NSS College, Akathethara in Palakkad, flying passenger drones could soon be a reality.
While unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been used in India for everything from food delivery to security reconnaissance, the concept of remotely-piloted vehicles that can carry passengers has not yet been implemented. However, if final-year mechanical students S Fahad, P Ashwin, S Asif Khan, Mamta Muralidharan and Gautam Udayabhanu get their way, their two-seater “flying robots” could soon revolutionize the automotive industry in India, and perhaps, the world.
With a patent from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and a Rs 8.8 lakh funding from the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment (KSCSTE), these students are busy toiling away to make their dream a reality. Under the guidance of professors V Vinod and N K Sreejith, the prototype drone is well on its way to completion. Fitted with the engine of a Duke bike, with propellers made of carbon fiber and a body out of aluminum, this remarkable machine would end up costing less than Rs 2 lakh!
Built almost entirely on indigenous technology, this passenger drone would have various features that sets it apart from their unmanned cousins. While UAVs operate on previously calibrated flight paths or on receiving signals from a base station, it is envisioned that the passenger drone would be able to chart its own route once a destination is entered. Working on GPS technology, the user interface being developed will be able to provide warnings about turbulent weather and also allow the passengers to override the automatic controls and switch to manual mode if required.
The drone, which would not require any runway for take-off, can achieve a maximum altitude of 300 metres. It would have the capability to make emergency landings, with airbags fitted for the safety of passengers in case of any accident. In the initial phase of development, the drone will be designed primarily as an alternative for ambulances and for use by law and order authorities for surveillance and monitoring purposes.
Indeed, the major inspiration behind the idea is to reduce a number of avoidable deaths which take place every day as a result of ambulances getting stuck in traffic. These passenger drones could also come in handy for search and rescue operations as well as for remotely detecting land-mines and other explosive devices.
Once this initial prototype becomes a reality, the students feel that similar drones for private transportation will follow quickly. For the moment, they are in discussions with the state police's Cyberdome initiative to use the vehicle for surveillance purposes. With a maximum speed of 30 kmph and an expected mileage of 20 kmpl (the fuel tank capacity is 5 liters), this drone which runs on petrol should be ideal for use within city limits.
For countless millennial brought up on a generation of sci-fi talking of space ships and flying cars, it seems these concepts will not remain just in fiction for much longer. Just as rockets, mobile phones and even the Internet were first described in comics, the age of aerial transport is right around the clouds!