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Manned electric 'multi-copter' takes flight

A pilot in Germany completes the first manned flight of the E-volo multicopter which takes off and lands like a helicopter. Msnbc.com's Dara Brown reports.

A group of German tinkerers have successfully completed what it claims is the world's first manned flight with an electric-powered "multi-copter" — a contraption that resembles a helicopter but with 16 rotors.

The one-minute-and-30-second flight was proof of concept for the machine that could one day find use for tasks such as inspecting wind turbines and pipelines or taking aerial photographs — in addition to giving aviation geeks a good time.

Though most similar to a helicopter, the team says the E-volo is superior due to the "simplicity of its engineered construction without complicated mechanics, and its redundant engines."

Should something go wrong, it can land even if four of its 16 rotors fail, for example. And since there is no propeller above the pilot, a safety parachute could also be deployed.

Sans pilot, the machine weighs 176 pounds (80 kilograms), light enough to be classified as an ultralight. 

What makes it different from other helicopter-like flying machines with multiple rotors is the electric power source — lithium-ion batteries. In its current configuration, there's enough juice for 20 minutes of flight.

We've recently seen other electric flying machines, such as the electric-powered plane that took flight this summer at EAA AirVenture show in Wisconsin. And students at the University of Maryland are working on a human-powered helicopter.

Compared to flying a plane, the E-volo is simple to operate — it is controlled with a joystick — potentially opening up this aviation thrill to the masses.

Future designs could include multi-seat machines that zip along quickly enough to replace the helicopters we see flying around today.

More on flying contraptions:

John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.


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