Aerospace company Boeing says 19 New Zealand inventors have registered for its US$2 million ($2.7m) contest to build a personal flying device.
The deadline for the first submissions to Boeing's two year GoFly competition is this week, a red letter date for Waikato entrant Kris Sebro, who has been fascinated by the idea of personal flying machines since he was a small boy growing up in Trinidad-Tobago.
Sebro, studying for a masters degree in mechanical engineering at Waikato University and a keen competitor in engineering challenges, said he'd been thinking about how to build a vertical take-off personal aircraft for years but the capital and resources needed to develop his concept were beyond him until Boeing launched GoFly last year.
He immediately started the calculations for his still-secret concept, which he describes as a device that a person "isn't in, but on and attached to".
"You pretty much have a controller and you can hover or fly like Superman to get to where you're going."
Sebro will be competing for one of 10 slots each offering US$20,000 in the first phase of the multi-stage contest, which ends late next year with a final fly-off.
Boeing says fly-off scores will be based on highly-challenging criteria:
• Performance, including speed & endurance
• The ability to achieve near vertical takeoff and landing
• The experience of open-air flight
"What the device looks like or how it works to accomplish the task, and accomplish it safely, is up to you," says Boeing.
Contestants have access to the top minds in world aerospace.
Sebro, who will be a speaker at Waikato TechWeek'18 in May, said Boeing had opened the door to a range of experts from software and structural engineers to aviation technical experts to help him validate his concept.
He estimates his invention would sell for about the same price as a family car and be ready for commercialisation by about 2025.
That's after a $1m-plus development project including prototyping and five to seven years of testing.
"Just to build the core structure, the frame without any components, is around US$50,000. Even with [the possibility of Boeing] seed money, you're talking carbon fibre which swallows money, nano fibres and prototype electric engines."
Sebro would go to the market for venture capital if he got to the prototyping stage.
Boeing's GoFly contest is for a design that has a 20 mile (32km) range, but Sebro is also working on a second range aim of 120 miles using a hybrid engine invention.
Flying height needs to be well under 5000m because of temperature, oxygen requirement and personal safety risk, he said.
Will his device have a parachute?
"I have a design in case of failure. It's not a parachute, something totally different but probably even safer."
With his design completed along with the calculations to validate it, next step will be to get feedback from Boeing before construction can start, said Sebro who with his medical doctor wife Nesrene settled in Hamilton a year ago from Trinidad-Tobago.
"I wanted a balance between family life and the ability to work on technology. When I did my research on universities I noted the Waikato region had the fastest rate of growth in the technology sector and that really impressed me."
Hamilton recorded $109m revenue growth among its top technology companies last year, according to the 2017 Technology Investment Network (TIN) report.
At 21.7 per cent revenue growth that made the Waikato the fastest growing tech region in the country, TIN said.
TechWeek'18 Waikato will run from May 19-27, running parallel with a national event.
Sebro wants to use his TechWeek'18 appearance to dispel some technology access myths.
"As an engineer you can get the impression that a lot of tech is out of reach for people who have a great idea. That's really not true. If you are dedicated enough there are avenues. You can develop your ideas without a fantastic science background or a PhD in something. The space is there.
"It's also there for people who don't have ideas but are technically inclined."