Science fiction makes flying cars and hoverbikes seem like the ultimate way to get around town, and one day they might be. But for now, the limits of technology mean you really want to avoid climbing aboard a flying bike, as this unfortunate crash of the Russian Hoversurf Scorpion demonstrates.
A couple of years ago, the Dubai Police force announced they were investing in Hoversurf’s technology and would be adding the Scorpion hoverbike to their lineup of police vehicles. The announcement sounded more like a PR opportunity than a genuine way to boost the police force’s capabilities, but this video, released yesterday, shows that the Scorpion is still actually undergoing testing in Dubai — or at least it was.
The electric-powered Scorpion can hit speeds of over 64 km hour and is deigned to fly at heights of around 4.88 m, but this incident occurred with the hoverbike flying about 30.48 m in the air. The crash itself wasn’t as scary as it could have been; the pilot managed to right the craft moments before it hit the ground which appears to have greatly reduced its impact speed. What’s terrifying is watching the pilot get tangled up with the wreckage, which included four unshielded spinning propellers. Miraculously, the pilot is seen standing up after the crash with all four limbs intact.
As tantalising as the prospect of a flying motorcycle is, this unfortunate incident is exactly why it’s going to be a very long time before personal flying vehicles will be available to the public — if ever. We’ve seen others try their hands at building hoverbikes, including British inventor Colin Furze whose brief flights, limited to just a few feet off the ground, were equally terrifying. They all share a similar limitation which is arguably also a severe design flaw: a dependence on spinning propellers to get off the ground.
Propellers are fine for drones that operate at safe distances from humans, but look closely at the Scorpion and you’ll see four spinning blades all sitting dangerously close to the pilot. Even more dangerous is the lack of protective cages around those spinning blades, which are no doubt absent as they’d add weight to the craft and further reduce its already limited 25-minute flight time. The efficiency of batteries and electric motors has improved in recent years, but as long as we’re forced to rely on propellers to get off the ground, personal flying aircraft will pose an immense safety risk.
It’s probably the reason why flying cars and flying bikes always seem to be just two years away. To make personal flying vehicles viable we’re going to need radically different technology, and unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot longer than two years for it to be developed, tested, refined, and perfected. Companies like Gravity Industries have demonstrated potential alternatives with its Iron Man-like suit powered by compact jet engines, but even that approach struggles with flight times that are limited to just a few minutes given how quickly it burns through fuel. It’s not perfect, but it seems like a much better approach than just supersizing drones.