Researchers develop fluid-based propulsion system for flying taxis

Many cities are scrambling to develop mass transportation alternatives to personal cars driven on public roads. Congestion has made it difficult for many to get around in some of the biggest cities in the US, prompting the development of concepts that involve public transportation both below and above ground. When it comes to 'flying taxis,' however, current technology comes with big limitations.

Researchers with Purdue University have developed a fluid power system intended for autonomous aerial vehicles (AAVs) that feature vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities. These 'air taxis' would offer the public an alternative to land vehicles for relatively short distance trips that take place in the air instead of on the road.

The current state of VTOL AAV technology presents some big limitations, namely heavy components that amount to a substantial weight, reducing how heavy of a payload an aerial vehicle can carry. The newly developed fluid power technology provides an alternative in the form of a hydraulic propulsion system that is both recyclable and inexpensive, according to the university.

This system is designed for VTOL aircraft that feature multi-rotor designs — each rotor's speed can be individually controlled with this system, which uses a hydrostatic transmission to distribute the engine's power to the rotors. According to the researchers, the system is able to provide both the necessary aerodynamic lift and altitude control.

Talking about the technology is one of the researchers working on the project, Lizhi Shang, who explained:

The critical advantage of this innovation is that it's lightweight, which then can be translated as superior payload fraction, lower operation cost, longer flight distance and better controllability and maneuverability. For transmitting the same power with precise speed control, a hydraulic system is much lighter than an electric system, which is currently dominating the market.