We're willing to bet that more than a few of the people reading this article indulged in Matthew Reilly's young adult motorsport novel Hover Car Racer at some point or another. By this point, the narrative told, motor racing would have taken to the skies, with Formula 1-like cars racing through airborne circuits at fighter jet speeds, with risk and reward offered in equal measure.
Now, with Formula 1 itself still very much taking place on the ground right now, that future seems like an eternity away. But with drone racing now a thing and carmakers making leaps and bounds towards putting things like taxis and personal transport vehicles into the air, it seems all but certain that one day we'll see some form of hover car racing on our TV screens.
Now, the first manifestation of that future has emerged in the form of a new race series called Airspeeder, which if successful, will have pilots racing at breakneck speeds in manned electric multicoptors in a dazzling array of technological splendour. And it could be a reality before we know it.
The Airspeeders will be built by a British-based company called Alauda Aeronautics, which is actually manufacturing and testing the vehicles in Adelaide. Fully electric, they'll be capable of speeds of up to 200kph, care of the eight separate propellers attached to each airspeeder. Naturally, they need to be pretty light to attain that kind of speed, and they will be. Each Speeder, with a pilot on board, has a maximum weight of just 250kg.
We know what you're thinking at this point, aside from the obvious comparisons you can draw from the Pod Racing scene in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. This is obviously super dangerous. But there are safety measures. According to Airspeeder’s founder and CEO, Matt Pearson, every Airspeeder will be fitted with "high-speed collision avoidance technology."
"Getting multiple vehicles in the air at the same time is tricky," said Pearson in an interview with British GQ. “Even with autonomous vehicles on the ground, it’s a difficult thing to get right because computers have to make decisions very fast. But in a racing environment, you have a pretty controlled course and you have the ability to make all the vehicles cooperate with each other. You have a whole load of vehicles talking to each other, so if there’s an incident or a pilot slows down or there’s a traffic jam on the course they’re all aware of each other.
"This is something we think will revolutionise autonomous vehicles on the ground. It’s technology that will make flying cars a reality in our cities in the future.”
Airspeeder has said that it envisions its first fully-fledged season as being at least 3 races, one of which will apparently take place right here in Australia. However they've picked a strange location for the remote brand of racing. The Australian GP, if you can call it that, will take place in isolated Coober Pedy.
In order to facilitate such hazardous racing, you naturally need quite a lot of space. As such, the other race will take place in California’s Mojave Desert. “We’re creating these really beautiful exotic locations, infused with a sci-fi flavour, giving people a taste of the future we’ve all expected," Pearson said, explaining that he envisions the racing taking place low to the ground, with courses marked by pylons in a similar fashion to the Red Bull Air Race series.
"Apart from that, for safety reasons, it’s good to be in a controlled environment, where we can set up a course and race without interference. Deserts, islands, near lakes and bodies of water are all good. Typically, if you crash, you want to come down on something that yields a little bit."
Pearson went on to explain that a number of former Air Force pilots and current motorsport stars have expressed enthusiasm for the project. To keep tabs on the series as it develops, head to airspeeder.com.