At this point, building a flying vehicle isn’t terribly hard. Aviation enthusiasts can buy DIY kits and build themselves a plane that can easily and safely take to the skies. But a flying vehicle that can take off vertically without jet engines or propellers? That’s the aspiration of a company called Volerian, which thinks flapping wings are a better solution. To help show the world how effective the approach can be, it now wants to sell you a flapping fan.
Rethinking our approach to aviation is going to be important if flying cars are ever going to be a thing that’s not perpetually about two years away. We don’t even know what a flying car is going to be, but assuming it will share the roads with cars, cyclists, and pedestrians, giant spinning propellers or jet engines blasting exhaust for hundreds of feet aren’t the solution. But are flapping wings? Engineers have been borrowing designs from nature for as long as humans have been able to invent things, and it’s hard to argue that flapping wings aren’t an effective way to get airborne. It’s efficient and quiet—when was the last time you ever heard a bird in flight from afar?
Volerian’s website lists several designs for its proposed STOL (short take-off and landing) and VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft, but they all rely on a uniquely designed wing structure. There are no visible engines or propellers, but inside each wing is a large number of tiny flapping wings positioned inside aerodynamic ducts that generate enough thrust to get airborne. The flapping motion is more akin to a fish’s tail fin flapping back and forth to propel it through the water than the complicated motions of a bird’s wings, but the basic idea is the same.
It’s a novel approach that Volerian claims offers many advantages over the typical ways planes take to the air, but one that’s relatively untested, and the company has yet to deliver a working prototype aircraft utilizing the flapping wing approach. Revolutionizing air travel isn’t a cheap endeavor either, so to kill two birds with one stone, the company wants to show the world its ideas are sound—and raise a few dollars in the process—by bringing its flapping wing technology to the masses with a unique tower fan.
Instead of spinning blades (even Dyson’s blade-less fans feature a spinning impeller in the base), the Volerian Fan features a pair of vertical flapping wings in the back, paired with a set of static but adjustable wings in the front to direct the airflow throughout a room. The design is supposedly more energy-efficient, using about as much power as a regular tower fan while moving twice the amount of air, and both quieter and safer as there’s no risk of losing a digit should you touch the flapping wings.
Volerian is going the crowdfunding route for its fan, with an Indiegogo campaign looking to raise just shy of $10,000 to help put it into production. The cheapest tier has the fan going for about $300 with delivery sometime in June of next year, but full retail pricing is expected to be closer to $430 or more, assuming it ever becomes a reality. More than ever, it’s important to be extra cautious about crowdfunded products, particularly electronics, given the issues with supply chain shortages and shipping challenges around the world as a result of the ongoing pandemic. This is also an unproven design, even for fans, and unlike companies such as Dyson that can pour millions of dollars into the R&D needed to perfect a new design, Volerian doesn’t have the benefit of unending cash flow from various successful products already on the market.