Late for a meeting? Tarek Ibrahim wants you to be able to call a heli-taxi.
His Mississauga, Ont.-based company Airvinci is in the midst of manufacturing the first prototype for its Airvinci Backpack Helicopter, a cross between a personal helicopter and an autonomous drone. The concept, which looks a bit like a UFO, uses a gas engine and has a ducted fan to protect it from collisions and a fixed-pitch rotor to make it both easy and safe to fly. It’s capable of vertical takeoff and landing and has an enclosed pod to protect passengers from the elements.
“It’s not the same efficiency as a normal helicopter but the safety factor goes way up because now you can lightly hit things and the helicopter won’t crash, it won’t fall out of the sky,” says Ibrahim, an outspoken proponent of personal aviation who delivered a TEDx Talk in Toronto on the subject last year.
The key, he says, was creating a concept that didn’t necessarily require new or unproven technology. With the ability to travel 12,000 feet high, carry 260lbs and move at speeds around 70km, asides from being an autonomous taxi, Airvinci’s helicopter could be used for deliveries, skydiving, search-and-rescue operations and sightseeing. They expect the first version to retail for around $100,000 with the price falling to about $30,000 as they perfect the technology.
The company plans to run the first test flight in late October after nearly two years of research and development. But it’s also just the beginning for AirVinci’s hurdles.
“There’s going to be some growing pains for sure,” admits Ibrahim.
For one, Transport Canada is still struggling with putting regulations in place for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) – colloquially known as drones – so personal flying machines aren’t really on the radar yet.
While the federal government has promised more sweeping rules come mid-2017, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration released their rules earlier this week, outpacing Canada which was once seen as a leader in regulating drones.
“Transport Canada and the FAA, they’re more geared towards big airliners than towards small aircrafts – they’ve been doing an awesome job but they don’t really know small aircraft traffic yet,” says Ibrahim, adding that he suspects eventually air traffic will start migrating towards automated systems to manage the growing amount of aerial traffic.
As for the general public, there’s apt to be some skepticism there too, he says .
“Like any technology, there’s going to be the early adopters that are going to love it and be like ‘this is amazing, I want to do it all the time,’ ” says Ibrahim. “The rest of the public it’s definitely going to be a hurdle just like the electric car, like Uber – like anything new.”
In the meantime, the company is trying to raise its profile, recently entering a contest with promotional material company StickerYou where people can vote on the feasibility of the business. The winner gets $10,000 worth of marketing materials. They also plan to live stream the test launch.
He’s confident the idea will gain traction.
“I know that nobody is ready for us, that’s fine, they will be,” he says. “It’s not a matter of if it will come, it’s when… if it’s not me it’s somebody else, it will happen.”