Trek Aerospace’s FlyKart 2 personal aerial vehicle has 10 ducted propellers and is custom-designed to meet the GoFly challenge’s specifications. (Trek Aerospace Illustration) Five teams from around the world have risen to new heights in the GoFly Prize competition, a $2 million contest backed by Boeing to encourage the development of personal flying machines. The Phase II contest winners, unveiled today at the SAE AeroTech Americas conference in Charleston, S.C., will receive $50,000 prizes and the chance to compete for the $1 million grand prize in a future fly-off. “Now we can unequivocally say we will be able to make people fly within the next one to two years,” Gwen Lighter, GoFly’s CEO and founder, told GeekWire in advance of the announcement. Judges chose the five Phase II winners from an initial field of more than 800 teams from 101 countries. The competition’s requirements call for the development of flying machines that can make vertical or near-vertical takeoffs and transport a single person up to 20 miles. Last year, on the basis of their designs for aerial vehicles, which ran the gamut from mini-helicopters to flying bikes and “Star Wars”-style landspeeders. For Phase II, competitors had to build and test prototypes, either scaled-down or actual size, and show that they could be operated safely and quietly. The five winning teams are: Aeroxo LV, based in Russia and Latvia. Aeroxo’s ERA Aviabike is a tiltrotor aerial vehicle that performs like a flying bicycle. It combines the vertical-flight capabilities of a helicopter with the range and speed of a fixed-wing aircraft. DragonAir Aviation, based in Florida. DragonAir’s Airboard 2.0 is an all-electric, self-stabilizing hovercraft that carries a single passenger in a standing position. Silverwing Personal Flight, based in the Netherlands. Silverwing’s S1 is a flying motorcycle. The device’s main features are two electric ducted fans, a passenger shell for safety, and a landing gear and battery pack integrated into the wing. Texas A&M Harmony, based in Texas. The Harmony team’s Aria aircraft is a compact rotorcraft designed to minimize noise and maximize efficiency, safety and reliability. The team includes researchers from Texas A&M and other institutions. Trek Aerospace, based in California. Trek Aerospace’s FlyKart 2 is an electric, single-seat, multi-rotor, ducted-fan, vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft that’s designed to be inexpensive to build, own and operate. Lighter said the winning prototypes reflect a diversity of design approaches, geographical origins and career experiences. The team members range from veteran aerospace engineers and former jet pilots to engineering students. “Innovation can truly come from anyone, anywhere,” Lighter said. The next phase of the competition calls for finalists to turn their prototypes into full-scale flying machines, for a fly-off at a site yet to be selected in the western United States in early 2020. That time frame is a bit later than the original plan to have the fly-off late this year. “Our primary focus has been on safety and weather and wind,” Lighter explained. “The sites that we are most interested in using are better if we slide the final fly-off back two to three months.” A media programming campaign will be built around the fly-off, but Lighter said it was too early to provide specifics. The teams participating in the fly-off will have the option of sending up a human rider or a lifesize mannequin. Finalists will put their machines through a , and will be scored on the basis of vehicle size, speed and noise. GoFly will award the $1 million grand prize to the top-scoring team. Prizes worth $250,000 each will go to the quietest vehicle that meets the contest’s requirements, and to the smallest compliant vehicle. There’s also a Pratt & Whitney Disruptor Award worth $100,000. Then what? Lighter said GoFly’s mission is to “catalyze the technology” for personal flight — while leaving it up to the participating teams to find the right niche for their technologies. “GoFly believes that it is the public’s opportunity to be able to decide what fliers are best for what uses,” she said. She drew a comparison to the automotive industry, where customers can buy a minivan, a convertible, a sedan or a pickup truck, depending on how they want to use those vehicles. “We want to set up a system where there are many different types of flier designs,” Lighter said. “Some will be more applicable to first responders, Some will be more applicable to package delivery. … Some will be more applicable to short commutes. Some will be more applicable to future sports — you know, human drone racing or a version of quidditch that comes to life.” To paraphrase Chairman Mao, . “World, you get to decide what’s best for all of you,” Lighter said.
Gaia co-founders Mehtap Ozkan, David Vaskevitch and Hal Berenson. (Gaia Photo) As a former longtime Microsoft chief technology officer, has seen most of the major computer revolutions. He’s ready for the next wave, autonomous machines, and is building a platform to get in on the ground floor. Vaskevitch is one of three co-founders behind Gaia, a new Seattle-area startup aims to be a kind of app store for robots. “Autonomous apps are not going to be like any kind of preceding apps,” Vaskevitch said. “We’re going to build a platform that makes it easier and even practical to write them.” Gaia, which has raised $10 million, is looking for partners who are building autonomous machines. The startup does not yet have a website. Vaskevitch said that solving the autonomous software problem will spread the adoption of these independent robots. “Imagine if Steve Jobs had introduced iPhone but not Xcode or the App Store,” Vaskevitch said. “Apple would be a much smaller platform.” Gaia plans to build a kind of app store for autonomous machines, such as delivery drones and robotic chefs. Above, a test model from Amazon’s delivery drone program. (Amazon Photo) In recent years, Vaskevitch has been working on Mylio, which is known for a photo management app that . Two years ago, Mylio from Chinese investors to build a private cloud. The Gaia team has borrowed Mylio’s hybrid mesh network to make its vision possible. “Gaia is designed from the ground up for tomorrow’s yin and yang distributed world,” Gaia co-founder wrote in a in 2017. “Applications can be written just once and still run on a phone, a tablet, in a car or robotic surgeon, in a server or in the cloud.” Ozkan comes from a venture capital background as the founder of Istanbul-based Golden Horn Ventures. The third member of Gaia’s founding team, , first met Vaskevitch at Microsoft and also worked on relational databases at Amazon. One problem the team foresees is that today’s infrastructure — billions of devices connected through the cloud — won’t work with tomorrow’s autonomous machines. Instead, much of the computing power will have to be done locally. “Nobody’s really worked in that problem for the last 20 years,” Vaskevitch said. In his blog post, Ozkan added: “The good news is that hardware to create the new world is either here or clearly on the way. The challenge is that the software to enable a world like this is almost entirely missing in action.” At least for now, the startup isn’t diving into the rat race for self-driving cars, focusing instead on an application platform for everything else. Among your future companions: autonomous chefs, security robots and delivery drones. “Ten or 15 years from now, we’re going to see autonomous machines in our homes, at work, everywhere we go,” Vaskevitch said.