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Your hoverbike will be ready in 2017

Posting in Technology

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Marty McFly's hoverboard from Back to the Future: Part II remains a fantasy. But something better is about to become reality.

Aerofex, a California company that revealed a concept hoverbike in 2012, says it will sell the real deal by 2017. The two-rotor Aero-X will travel at speeds up to 45 miles per hour and float as high as 10 feet off the ground. The Aero-X gets its power from a 240-horsepower, water-cooled rotary engine.

The idea of the Aero-X is that anyone with experience operating a motorcycle should be able to pilot the vehicle, according to CTO and cofounder Mark De Roche. But various engineering challenges had to be conquered to make that happen. The most serious was the "coupling" phenomenon, which plagues any rotor-powered craft, including helicopters. Because of the way rotors spin, a pilot pitching the controls forward might also cause the craft to pitch to the left. Trained pilots know to compensate, but coupling raises the barriers of entry for newbies.

Aerofex's engineering solutions to eliminate coupling are trade secrets, but IEEE Spectrum reports that they involve a shroud around the bottoms of the rotors for extra control. The company also outfitted the floating bike with small gyroscopes and accelerometers like those found in smartphones to detect the effects of gusty winds and then compensate.

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The result is a hoverbike that drives like a motorcycle: Riders grip handlebars and lean in to turn. Aero-X will carry two people and fly for about an hour and fifteen minutes on a full tank of gas. The machine will cost $85,000, and you can put down your $5,000 deposit to reserve one now.

If Aerofex succeeds in its flight tests and production schedule, then one question remains: Is flying the Aero-X legal? The company says you won't need a pilot's license to fly one -- Aerofex skirted the FAA rules by limiting the vehicle's altitude to 10 feet. Anybody flying the hoverbike around their own property should be fine, De Roche says. But that doesn't mean these babies are street-legal. He cautions that they're probably illegal in urban settings.

So, while a person could ride an Aero-X across the desert to the spaceport of Mos Eisley, it looks like you'll have to find another way to get across town without touching the ground.

[Aerofex via IEEE Spectrum, Ars Technica]

Images: Aerofex

— By on May 27, 2014, 6:26 AM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure