Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Volocopter: 18-propeller electric helicopter takes flight

German engineers celebrate as the Volocopter, one of the world's first electric helicopters, takes off on its maiden flight. German engineers celebrate as the Volocopter, one of the world's first electric helicopters, takes off on its maiden flight.
HIDE CAPTION
Lift off!
Clever coptor
Electric evolution
Deutsch determination
Green thinking
Easy does it
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Introducing e-volo's Volocopter: multi-rotor electric helicopter makes maiden flight
  • Eco-friendly machine powered by 100 kg battery, can travel 70kph
  • Part of EU scheme looking at how personal aerial vehicles could replace cars
  • Expected to be available by 2015, would cost around $338,000

Art of Movement is CNN's monthly show exploring the latest innovations in art, culture, science and technology.

(CNN) -- There's a lot to be said for determination. Two years ago, a contraption that looked a bit like a bouncy ball attached to a clothesline, took flight in a pioneering experiment in the German countryside.

A YouTube clip of a man flying the electric "Multicopter" attracted over 8 million hits, with comments ranging from: "AMAZING MACHINE!" to "Not sure you could pay me enough to sit in the middle of flying blenders bolted together."

Regardless, the three German engineers behind the baffling creation plowed ahead with their dream of making an electric helicopter. Last week it paid off.



There wasn't a bouncy ball in sight as the slick white "Volocopter" took to the air for the first time, quietly hovering 20 meters high, while its ecstatic creators cheered below.

Featuring 18 propellers on a lightweight carbon frame, the futuristic copter -- which has been around €4 million ($5.4 million) in the making -- could change the way we commute forever.

Read: SkyCall -- The drone that's your personal tour guide

"What we're looking at now, is in the future where everyone is traveling not by car, but by some kind of aircraft," explained Stephan Wolf, co-chief executive of e-volo, the company behind the remarkable flying machine.

"Normal helicopters are very hard to fly. But we thought 'what if you could have a helicopter that is easy for the pilot to fly, and cheap compared to other aircraft?'"

Clever copter

Powered by a 100 kilogram battery, the two-passenger Volocopter can travel at least 70 kilometers per hour, recently making its first remote-controlled flight in a hanger in Karlsruhe, southwest Germany.

The chopper weighs just 300 kilograms in total. One limitation is that it currently only has enough power to fly for 20 minutes -- though designers are looking at ways of increasing this, or introducing a hybrid engine.

GimBall: Fying robot to the rescue?
Flying robots perform amazing acrobatics
Flying robots inspired by birds?

Many small rotors -- attached to a 10-meter wide circular frame -- also help the eco-friendly machine hover more easily than other helicopters.

"If you let the joystick go, the Volocopter will just hover in the current position, so there's nothing the pilot has to do," said Wolf.

"But if you do that in another helicopter it will crash immediately."

Read: GimBall -- The flying robot that likes to crash

Reimagining the city

Indeed, the Volocopter's simplicity sets it apart from other helicopters, and its creators hope in the future commuters will be able to take their electric aircraft to work, instead of languishing in gridlocked cars below.

The European Union is already looking at ways personal aerial vehicles (PAVs) could revolutionize urban spaces. It might sound like a scene from the Jetsons, but a city where flying machines replace cars isn't as far off as it seems.

"The most helicopters in the world are in Sao Paulo, Brazil," explained Wolf. "They have several thousand movements per day because the streets are congested and everyone who can afford it is taking the helicopter to go from one building to the next.

"You can imagine this happening in a big city in Germany. And already we've been approached by several companies who'd like to do it, maybe with landing pads on buildings."

The team hopes to sell its first Volocopter by 2015, with each machine setting you back €250,000 ($338,000). They're now on the lookout for further funding to develop their unique design.

Read: Unlocking secrets of bird flight in robotics

Think big

Maybe you need to go up in the air, to solve transportation problems
Stephan Wolf, co-chief executive, e-volo

It's a long way from the first awkward-looking Multicopter test flight in 2011.

Even more impressive, considering Wolf himself was a computer software engineer for 25 years before turning his attention to futuristic flying machines -- "I was dreaming of building a helicopter since I was a child," he said.

Then there's the other e-volo founders -- Thomas Senkal, a former physicist, and Alexander Zosel, who managed a disco for almost 10 years, who also got on board the pioneering project.

"I think everyone wants to fly," said Wolf. "Helicopters are very expensive and people think maybe this is a way to be a pilot themselves.

"In 20 or 30 years from now there will be even more cities with millions more people living in them and transportation will be a big problem. Maybe you need to go up in the air to solve these problems."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Thu April 3, 2014
"Ever since I was a kid, I had a dream where -- if I ran fast enough on the ground -- I could lift off and start flying."
updated 7:41 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
You've built a cannon. Now you just need a willing participant to crawl inside.
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Thu March 13, 2014
This incredible mechanical boy can write poetry and draw pictures. Hear his remarkable story.
updated 7:59 AM EDT, Mon March 10, 2014
New production "Men in Motion" takes you inside the testosterone-fueled world of male ballet, where strength and tenderness go hand in hand.
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
Quick math question: What has 78 fingers, 22 arms, and no brain? Meet the futuristic robot band that plays fast and furious.
updated 12:30 PM EST, Wed November 27, 2013
An electric helicopter -- powered by 18 propellers -- has made its maiden flight. Is this the future?
updated 5:52 AM EDT, Thu October 10, 2013
Meet Brett McBride -- shark wrangler, freediver, big wave surfer ... and all-round seafaring "superhero."
updated 9:47 AM EDT, Wed March 19, 2014
A robot has smashed the record for solving a Rubik's Cube. Check out some of the nerdiest man vs machine competitions of all time...
updated 11:15 AM EST, Wed March 5, 2014
Patrick Rump is the former karate champion tackling ballet's "silent suffering" culture.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri March 28, 2014
Inventor Glenn Martin admits he appears crazy -- "But it's the crazy people who change the world."
updated 7:21 AM EST, Mon February 17, 2014
Introducing "WAFFLE," a group of teens taking their fancy footwork -- and pole dancing skills -- to New York's subway.
updated 7:37 AM EST, Fri January 3, 2014
Celebrate 100 years since the creation of Charlie Chaplin's greatest alter ego -- the Little Tramp -- with a look back at a century of physical comedy.
updated 6:09 AM EST, Tue December 17, 2013
Step inside the surreal fantasy home of the world's most famous clown -- Russia's Slava Polunin.
updated 5:33 AM EST, Tue November 12, 2013
Introducing GimBall -- a flying robot modeled on insects, which may change search and rescue missions forever.
updated 7:49 AM EST, Tue December 10, 2013
New footage reveals Charlie Chaplin put "City Lights" co-star through 342 excruciating takes.
ADVERTISEMENT