Researchers hope personal helicopters could help relieve congested cities in future

Steering wheel for helicopters to change future of transportation

German researchers have developed a steering system that would make helicopters as easy to control as cars.

Part of the EU-funded research project myCopter, the technology could one day lead to development of personal aircraft that could become an integral part of the general transportation system.

“At the moment, the control systems found in modern helicopters are complex and using them requires a great deal of training,” said Stefan Levedag, head of the Institute of Flight Systems of the German Aerospace Centre (DLR).

“But we have now managed to develop a steering-wheel-based control system – with automatic control technology behind it – that makes flying far simpler.”

The team believes their system could one day be used in personal aerial vehicles (PAVs) that would revolutionise the way people travel and help solve problems with congestion in big cities.

"Until now, helicopter pilots have been required to monitor all four control axes," explained Bianca Schuchardt from the DLR Institute of Flight Systems. "This takes absolute concentration, especially when hovering, as a pilot must operate both sticks and pedals at the same time to maintain a stable position in the air."

The solution presented by the myCopter team does without the cyclic stick responsible for movements around the longitudinal and transverse axis.

"Instead, the pilot simply turns the steering wheel as required to fly the helicopter in the intended direction," Schuchardt explained.

The four-year project, to be concluded by the end of 2014, also focused on collision avoidance systems, pilot training and overall streamlining of helicopter control processes.

"The key to simplifying helicopter flight for everyday purposes – in addition to the controls themselves – is to introduce suitable sensors and screen content that make piloting the aircraft as intuitive as possible for the user," said Heinrich H Bülthoff, project manager at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics who led the research.

The steering wheel has been tested in a virtual environment using DLR’s Air Vehicle Simulator (AVES). The team hopes to fly the system in real-life conditions soon, using the DLR’s research helicopter, a converted Eurocopter EC 135.

Researchers from across Europe including the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the University of Liverpool, the École Polytechnique Féderale de Lausanne (EFPL) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich have participated in the project.

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