People’s dream of flying around in the sky in their own cars may be becoming less illusory and more of a common activity in the near future.
Japan’s SkyDrive Inc., as well as numerous other ‘flying car’ projects across the world, has managed to carry out a successful but modest test flight with one person on board. In a video published on Friday, a contraption that resembled a slick motorcycle with propellers lifted a few feet off the ground and flew in a netted zone for four minutes.
Flying Cars are Here
Tomohiro Fukuzawa, the head of the SkyDrive project, said he hopes the flying car can be developed into a real-life product by 2023, but said that making it safe was vital.
“Of the world’s more than 100 flying car projects, only a handful has succeeded with a person on board,” he told The Associated Press. “I hope many people will want to ride it and feel safe.”
The vehicle can now fly for five to 10 minutes only, but if that can become 30 minutes, it will have more faculty, including exports to other countries, Fukuzawa said. Dissimilar to airplanes and helicopters, eVTOL, or ‘electric vertical takeoff and landing’ vehicles provide quick point-to-point personal travel.
These vehicles could avoid the hassle of airports and traffic jams, as well as the costs of hiring pilots as they could fly automatically. Battery sizes, air traffic control, and other system issues are some of the many probable challenges to commercializing these vehicles.
“Many things have to happen,” said Sanjiv Singh, professor at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, who co-founded Near Earth Autonomy, which is also on the team working on an eVTOL aircraft. “If they cost $10 million, no one is going to buy them. If they fly for 5 minutes, no one is going to buy them. If they fall out of the sky every so often, no one is going to buy them,” Singh said.
The SkyDrive project began as a volunteer program known as Cartivator in 20012, with funding by major Japanese companies such as Toyota Motor Corporation, Panasonic Corporation, and Bandai Namco.
A demonstration flight that took place three years ado went poorly, but it has enhanced, and the project recently received more funding of 3.9 billion yen (around $37 million), including from the Development Bank of Japan.
The Japanese government is optimistic about the ‘Jetsons’ vision, with a plan of action for business services by 2023, and spread commercial use by the 2030s, emphasizing its potential for connecting remote regions and offering lifelines in case of disasters.
Experts say that the buzz over flying cars is similar to that when both the aviation industry and the auto segment got started. Lilium of Germany, Joby Aviation in California, and Wisk, a collaboration between Boeing Co. and Kitty Hawk Corp., are also working on eVTOL projects.
Sebastian Thrun, chief executive of Kitty Hawk, said it took time for airplanes, cell phones, and self-driving cars to be accepted by people as normal.
“But the time between technology and social adoption might be more compressed for eVTOL vehicles,” he said.