In Manhattan’s Flatiron Plaza on Monday, children gawked and construction workers tiptoed in curiosity around transportation company Workhorse’s product showcase of two futuristic vehicles: the first electric pickup truck, and the Surefly octocopter drone.
Workhorse is a midwestern transportation company that specializes in electric trucks, particularly for commercial (not personal) use. It gained attention this past May when it achieved manned flight of its SureFly hybrid helicopter. With eight propellers that provide balance, it’s designed more like a drone than a traditional helicopter — so it’s better described as a personal drone octocopter. Also, octocopter is pretty fun to say, so that’s what we’re going with, OK?!
Mashable attended Workhorse’s first look preview event for the SureFly octocopter and the W-15 electric pickup truck in Manhattan on Monday. The W-15 is slated for release in 2019, and Workhorse plans to bring the SureFly to market some time in the next two years.
Both products feature lean construction, designed to be both lightweight and fuel-efficient. For the W-15, that means its carbon fiber body can handle everything a traditional pickup truck can, with an unheard of 80-mile all-electric — and unlimited hybrid — range.
The octocopter also has a light, nimble design. And, most importantly, it’s easy to use.
“If you can fly a drone, you can fly this,” Workhorse CEO Steve Burns said. “Even if you can’t fly a drone, you can probably still fly this.”
Burns showed Mashable around the cockpit. It’s got a pretty spare but spacious design. Artificial Intelligence guides takeoff and landing, displayed on a large tablet. A joystick allows a flyer to steer. And an up and down switch makes the octocopter airborne, or guides it back to earth.
“A helicopter requires both feet, both arms, a lot of 3D thinking,” Burns explained. “Here, the computer’s flying you.”
Staying true to Workhorse’s roots, Burns sees the first applications for the octocopter as fleet-based; for example, for paramedics and first responders, agriculture, or the military. But Workhorse specifically designed the drone so that it could be integrated as a product for personal use.
“We really want to go fleet-centric first,” Burns said. “But in the end, we’re getting a lot of excitement from people who just want to avoid traffic. So I think in the end that’s the most volume, but we’re going to cut our teeth on fleets.”
In the creation of the octocopter, Workhorse questioned what has kept helicopters from more widespread personal use. The answer was mainly difficulty of use, and affordability. So it’s easy to fly, will be offered at an affordable price (under $200,000, which is cheaper than most helicopters), and the propeller arms fold in, so it can fit in a garage. It’s slightly smaller than a helicopter, and will eventually come in either one-seater, two-seater, and four-seater options.
And the SureFly is now graduating beyond its experimental stage. It has been operating under an experimental license from the FAA. But Workhorse has now applied for a full license, and thinks it will be the first fully FAA-licensed Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) vehicle.
Despite an intensive regulatory process, Burns doesn’t see that as Workhorse’s biggest challenge. Instead, it’s disrupting the gasoline-reliant ground and air vehicle market. But that opportunity to disrupt is also an asset.
“For a little company it’s a huge, huge opportunity,” Burns said. “In both road vehicles and air vehicles, changing the status quo is tough. I don’t think there’s anything more interwoven into America than gasoline driven transportation. We’re an American company, we’re in the midwest, where cars and trucks are made, and we’re trying to innovate and move the needle a little bit. And the good news is, it’s such a giant market, you don’t have to move the needle much to have a big impact.”