Remember that moment in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial where Elliott and pals suddenly peel off the pavement and pedal away into the gathering dusk, soaring over suburban housetops sporting expressions like roller-coaster rookies? I mean the version before they whitewashed the guns out of the cops’ hands (the ones standing beside the blue cruisers) and dropped in CGI walkie-talkies — when it still felt menacing, in other words, as it was meant to. John Williams helped, of course, his score infusing the sequence with a kind of orchestral resonance that conjured spinal vibrations. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could do that?
Subtract the ticked-off cops, the roadblock and any notion of flying sky-high (or passing in front of a giant luminous moon) and we’re a hair closer with this electric bike that can lift off and hover for minutes at a time.
It looks a little like someone snapped the poles off two giant silver industrial fans, flipped them sideways (the business end face-down), parked them at the front and rear of an ordinary looking bicycle just above the wheels, then added two smaller wing-like left and right fans straight out of a Sharper Image catalog. Where to put the bike basket that sequesters your Martian-on-the-run? Who knows. Maybe in 2013, Elliott would have used BabyBjorn.
The bike took public flight at a hangar-like exhibition hall in Prague, Czech Republic, as three research firms who’d joined hands to pull this concept together put the prototype through its paces, at first rising to a lazy hover in the video above, then deftly gliding around the large, empty space, controlled remotely. The flying bike — here conveying an artificial, mannequin-like rider weighing 210 lbs, says the BBC — can levitate a few yards above the ground for about five minutes. Those two fans cages (front and back) harbor two battery-powered fans each, one above the other, in order to provide enough lift.
In theory, an invention like this might allow cyclists to circumvent traffic snarls, consider alternate air-routes, or just get the heck out of the way of dangerous, apoplectic drivers. Trouble is, you’re not going to get very far on this particular bike with just five minutes of hang-time before the batteries need recharging.
“Because the capacity of batteries doubles about every 10 years, we can expect that in the future the capacity would be enough for the bike to be used for sports, tourism or similar things,” said Milan Ducherk, tech director with Duratec, one of the three companies that worked on the prototype (the other two: Technodat and Evektor).
As the BBC also notes, it’s not the first time someone’s made a bicycle fly — back in 2009, someone in the U.K. built a flying tricycle, or “Flyke,” then conducted a charity run across the entirety of Great Britain — but it’s apparently the first time anyone’s built a bona fide hover-bike; the Flyke operated more like an ultralight (it had to have a parachute deployed at all times while in flight).