28 July 2014

Africa: Flying Cars Pitched As Tools for Humanitarian Work

Oxford — Designs for flying cars are being targeted at humanitarian organisations for use in a variety of missions, from delivering vaccines to transporting medics and patients.

Pégase, a flying car from French company Vaylon, is expected to be on the market by 2015, while another US-designed vehicle, called the Maverick, is already for sale - both at around US$100,000.

The cars are lightweight vehicles with a propeller at the back and an extendable parachute, rather than wings, which allow them to take off.

"The vehicle is a breakthrough technology," says Vaylon's co-founder, Jérémy Foiche, who is aiming for three main uses for the car: military, humanitarian and leisure.

"We are interested in working with the humanitarian sector to determine exactly how it could be used in the field," Foiche says.

Both cars can carry two people and an additional load of around 300 kilograms, with a flying range of almost 200 kilometres on a single tank of gas. They can fly up to 3-5 kilometers high and need less than 100 meters to take off and land.

"For the humanitarian sector, we could imagine such adaptations as replacing the passenger seat with a stretcher or putting in the front compartment a small camera for field reconnaissance, or a fridge to keep vaccines in, and the vehicle could also carry a doctor to give the vaccinations," says Foiche.

Laurence Herve from METIS-ID2, a company bridging the gap between small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and humanitarian organisations, talked about the car at the Humanitarian Innovation Conference at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, last week (19-20 July).

She cited the Pégase as an example of a useful innovation from an SME that her company is helping to market to humanitarian organisations, who may be wary of small companies and edgy ideas.

"This is a crazy idea, of course," admits Herve.

But what is considered 'crazy' changes fast. Just five years ago humanitarian organisations were not interested in using drones, she says. Now, Herve adds, they understand the potential and many want to use drones.

Another similar flying car has been designed by the Indigenous People's Technology and Education Centre (I-TEC), which is run by Christian missionaries in the United States, with Ecuadorian indigenous people's needs in mind.

"It'll do 80, 90 per cent of what a helicopter will do for pennies on the dollar," says Troy Townsend, I-TEC's CEO, and design manager and test pilot for the Maverick.

"We're really excited about the potential of it now," says Jim Tingler, who is responsible for development and public relations at I-TEC. "I think we're right there, ready to go out and have it be used full time for the [missionary and humanitarian] purpose for which it was designed."

"Ultimately our heart and passion was to get this into places that need this, to save people and help them in practical ways," says Tingler.

But Amber Meikle, senior policy and practice adviser on technology justice at Practical Action, says: "For the flying car to become part of the humanitarian toolkit, it would have to better demonstrate it meets a need that other transport can't provide in an affordable and safe way."

See a video about the Maverick.

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