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Range-extending detachable motorbike for electric planes wins share of £0.7m fund


A concept image showing how the RExMoto could look (Credit: University of Nottingham)
A concept image showing how the RExMoto could look (Credit: University of Nottingham)

A motorcycle that attaches to planes to increase their range, car-charging ‘electric roads’ and Hyperloop software were among three ambitious projects that received a share of £700,000 to improve UK transport.

A ‘smart’ road coating to prevent ice formation, a universal train access ramp and an Internet of Things-enabling reliable broadband antenna for high-speed trains also benefited from the Department for Transport grants in the past year.

The department highlighted the innovative R&D projects today as it pledged to spend a third of its procurement budget with small- and medium-sized enterprises by 2022, aiming to provide inventive solutions to transport issues. 

The plan will make it easier for businesses with fewer than 250 staff members to bid for contracts, said transport minister Jo Johnson.

This year, 14 of 23 innovative projects that received around £30,000 each in Transport Technology Research Innovation Grants came from small and medium-sized companies.

One of the most cutting-edge projects to benefit was the ‘range-extender hybrid-electric motorcycle’, known as RExMoto. The University of Nottingham is developing the vehicle, which would be used as a road vehicle before attaching to an electric aircraft. The motorbike's internal combustion engine could then provide extra range, converting the plane from an electric to a hybrid vehicle. After flight, private owners could continue journeys on their bike.

Range limitations are the key barrier to mainstream electric flight, so any technology enabling longer journeys would receive significant attention. “As aircraft of the future adopt more electrical systems, we need engineering solutions to overcome current limitations,” said research fellow and concept designer Richard Glassock previously. “With RExMoto, leisure craft will be able to fly much further for much longer, offering pilots and owners of private two-seater or four-seater aircraft real benefits when commuting.”

The engine, generator, chassis and drive structure would have a novel layout and the entire unit would weigh 125kg or less, said the university. Retractable wheels would minimise drag while RExMoto is carried beneath an aircraft’s fuselage or under a wing.

Elsewhere, the University of Plymouth is developing a hydrophobic, temperature-sensing and self-heating road coating system to improve winter road safety, while at Newcastle University a range-extender concept using hydrogen could provide longer low-emission road journeys.

Hyped Ltd will develop software to model feasibility of the Hyperloop concept and assess how it would affect the wider transport system, while Algret Innovations is developing a direct-contact electric charging system for vehicles on the road. 

Small firm Cecence received a grant to develop and test a lightweight composite ramp to improve train accessibility, and Plextek Services is developing a tagging system for autonomous vehicles.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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