Saturday, 29 August 2020

Japan’s ‘flying car’ enjoys successful test flight with one aboard

 Japan’s ‘flying car’ enjoys successful test flight with one aboard

While Sci-Fi has long mused on the possibility of cars soaring through the sky, Japan’s SkyDrive Inc. might just make that a reality, The Associated Press reported Friday.

That day, video presented to reporters showed a motorcycle-like vehicle with propellers levitating about 3-6 feet and hovering in a netted area for four minutes as part of the “flying car” effort’s successful yet modest test flight. One person was aboard the machine.

“Of the world’s more than 100 flying car projects, only a handful has succeeded with a person on board,” Tomohiro Fukuzawa, leading the SkyDrive effort, told the outlet.

Fukuzawa, who hopes “many people will want to ride it and feel safe,” said the latter component is a crucial one, even as he hopes to make “the flying car” into a real product by 2023.

At this juncture, the contraption can fly for a mere five to 10 minutes, but increasing its capabilities to 30 minutes could also increase its marketability, allowing for exports to China, for instance, said Fukuzawa.

In principle, such machines — also known as eVTOL or “electric vertical takeoff and landing” vehicles — would allow for speedy point-to-point personal travel, in contrast to current aerial modes of transportation like planes and helicopters.

Many aspects have to fall into place though for eVTOLs to hit the market and be successful, said Sanjiv Singh, who co-founded Pittsburgh’s Near Earth Autonomy, also working on an eVTOL aircraft.

“If they cost $10 million, no one is going to buy them,” Singh, a professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, told the outlet. “If they fly for five minutes, no one is going to buy them.”

Similarly, if their safety is at all questionable, people won’t buy them, said Singh.

SkyDrive started as a volunteer project back in 2012, when it was called Cartivator, and was funded by top Japanese companies like Toyota and Panasonic.

Though a demonstration flight in 2017 was unsuccessful, SkyDrive has improved in the three years since, even racking up an addition $37 million (3.9 billion yen) of funding, some of which came from the Development Bank of Japan.

In line with Fukuzawa’s 2023 goal, the Japanese government is hoping their eVTOL will resemble the vehicle from the animated sitcom “The Jetsons.” The futuristic show first aired in the early 1960s and again in the late 1980s.

Ideally, Japan is looking to expand the vehicle’s commercial use by the 2030s. At that point, the government hopes eVTOLs would serve as lifelines amid disasters and connect remote areas.

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