Since the 1968 British musical adventure fantasy film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang about a magical flying car, and a host of futuristic sci-fi movies, people have imagined flying cars. Leave it up to a group of young Japanese whiz engineers from the auto and aerospace industries, for that dream to become reality.
The flying car project is being developed by the Cartivator group that operates outside Toyota city in central Japan. The 30-odd members working on the project — which kicked-off when team leader, Tsubasa Nakamura, won a business contest in 2012 — donate their free time. They have also been assisted by Masafumi Miwa, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Tokushima University and a drone expert, as well as Taizo Son, founder of Japanese online video game developer GungHo Online Entertainment.
The new generation flying vehicle, dubbed SkyDrive, relies on drone technology to take flight, has three wheels and four rotors enabling it to take off and land vertically from public roads without the need for a runway. It caught the attention of multinational Japanese automotive manufacturer Toyota Motor Corporation, headquartered in Toyota, Aichi, Japan, which has agreed in principal to back the project with an investment of around 42.5 million yen (US$375,000). Other investors include a Silicon Valley startup reportedly backed by Larry Page, Google co-founder, and ride-sharing service Uber — a company focused on inaugurating a system of flying cars to move people about cities. To-date, crowdfunding and other means of financing have paid for the car’s development.
The manned vehicle measures 2.9 meters (9.5ft) long and 1.3 meters (4.3ft) wide, making it the world’s smallest flying car. SkyDrive has a projected top flight speed of 100km/h (62mph), travels up to 10m above the ground, and will have a top landing speed of around 150 kilometers an hour.
The drone’s developers are in a bit of rush to launch a manned prototype in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics to be held in Tokyo from July 24-August 9. If all goes according to plan, the car will light the Olympic flame. In fact, a promo video shows the sci-fi car lowering retractable wings and then zipping off around Tokyo before lighting the Olympic stadium flame.
According to the team’s website: “Our vision is to initiate a new era [in which] everyone can fly freely. We are developing the world’s smallest flying car with vertical taking off and landing (VTOL) system and it can fly anywhere and anytime. It enables us to go places where we cannot go now or to live on water, by releasing [us from] transportation on roads.”
While it may take a while for next-generation mobility — that eliminates problems of pollution and traffic congestion — to navigate future safety issues, new laws, a licensing system and traffic rules, appropriate authorized frameworks will certainly follow if momentum is propelled by big companies like Toyota.