Transport in cities using flying vehicles controlled by artificial intelligence is the direction the world is going, according to researchers. And the Czech Republic does not want to be left behind. VZLÚ is thus developing an unmanned means of transport called MiYa, which could function as a taxi in the future. It would relieve congested roads, use free space in the air and reduce the time of people’s transport in and out of cities to a minimum.
“The future plane is intended for ordinary people to fly as a form of public transport, it is not intended as a VIP service,” explains deputy project manager Jan Zakucia from VZLÚ.
According to experts, the route from the center of Prague to the Ruzyn Airport could be completed by air taxi in an incredible four minutes, the journey to Špindlerův Mlýn in 23 minutes or to Karlovy Vary in 26 minutes.
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Fast, quiet, emission-free
“The plane alone can carry four passengers or 400 kilograms of cargo. We are planning it with a range of about 300 kilometers and a cruising speed of about 300 km/h. It could fly in corridors from 300 meters to 3000 meters above the ground. And that over roads or railways – there is no danger of three-ton planes flying over a residential area,” zooms in on Zakucia.
“It is completely electric driven, it is powered by electricity from its batteries, or from its electric generator,” adds project leader Petr Raška from VZLÚ. It should thus be ecological, emission-free and quiet so as not to disturb city dwellers.
The design is a kind of combination of a drone, a helicopter and an airplane with a wingspan of 15 meters. In its development, researchers are working with the concept of a folding wing with four propellers. “For this role, inter-city and intra-city travel, it must have vertical take-off and landing capability. It must have the ability to take off like a helicopter, then fly like an airplane and land again like a helicopter,” says Raška.
In the hall in Prague’s Horní Počernice, the aviation institute showed a scaled-down 1:4 replica of it, which they have been practically testing in the wind tunnel and during flight tests for six months.
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“We were surprised that the plane is quite manoeuvrable, we didn’t expect that at all, on the other hand there are other problems, for example flying in the wind, that is quite a big challenge for us,” mentions Zakucia’s interim experience.
A full-size prototype could, according to an optimistic assumption, fly perhaps as early as the end of this decade, with other versions – primarily for the military, and then for the civilian population – to appear in the next decade.
A pilot is not needed
A demonstration of the cabin of the future airplane was also on display in Počernice. It offers seats for four passengers or monitors displaying, for example, flight information. However, there is no place for the pilot. The vehicle is controlled autonomously by artificial intelligence and moves along a pre-programmed track.
“Even if there was a pilot on board, he would still only give some instructions on how the plane should change the track, speed and movement along the track, so we don’t really need the pilot there,” explains Raška.
However, the system will be supervised and monitored by an operator from the ground. Automatic flight control is also supposed to eliminate potential human errors and, last but not least, save costs.
“We have to convince the passengers to get in the robot and get a ride, and that’s going to be difficult. In my opinion, people still have no idea what this is about. Distrust is still great,” thinks Dušan Poliacek from the company 1to1 Design, which is in charge of the production of the cabin.
They solve, for example, the fact that the design is comfortable and safe for passengers – and at the same time they do not affect the safety of the sensitive system of the airplane.
Experts already have an idea of what the air taxi station itself at the main railway station in Prague could look like. It is a kind of smaller airport hall with landing areas, so-called vertiports.
“This service should be similar for customers to what they know today from regular airports. Passenger check-in, as well as security checks and pre-flight briefings will take place in it,” Zakucia describes, adding that everything should always take just a few minutes. Pankrác is another chosen location within the capital city.
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Fly through the Olympics
Czech experts deal with the topic of Urban Air Mobility (i.e. urban air mobility) also from the point of view of legislation. For this purpose, a project called Vertimove was created, in which, among others, the Center for the City of the Future CIIRC CTU and the Center for Transport Research cooperate.
“The result of this project is the creation of a methodology for what all needs to be changed in order for such a type of transport to be introduced in the Czech Republic,” says Zakucia.
Those who want to get to know the future of transport for themselves next year will probably have the chance at the Olympic Games in Paris. A group of companies dealing with Urban Air Mobility has selected four locations between which it will transport passengers within the Paris agglomeration.
“It will definitely be an experience because the planes for this project are relatively small, they carry one passenger and one pilot. But it’s a start, you need to pass on information and gain people’s trust,” concludes Raška.
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