Skydrive prototype demonstration

Flying car prototype demonstrated by Toyota-backed engineers

Image credit: Reuters/Kwiyeon Ha

Engineers backed by Toyota Motor Corporation have carried out a demonstration of their flying car, which they hope to use to light the Olympic Flame in the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.

In 1940, Henry Ford said that “a combination airplane and motorcar is coming; you may smile, but it will come”. His prediction remains unfulfilled, although there have been sincere efforts in recent years to make it a reality. Among the contenders is the Skydrive, which aims to be the world’s smallest flying car.

The Skydrive is being developed by a start-up, Cartivator, made up of 30 young engineers, including some Toyota employees. They began developing their first flying car model in 2014, backed by crowdfunders. Since then, Toyota and its associated companies have decided to invest 42.5 million yen (£300,000) in the venture.

Cartivator is aiming to make Skydrive the world’s smallest flying car at just 2.9m long and hope to get it travelling at speeds of up to 62mph at 10m above the ground, avoiding all ground-based traffic. The company also hopes to use Skydrive to light the Olympic torch at the opening ceremony of the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.

A prototype, demonstrated over the weekend, was able to launch and hover above the ground for a few seconds. Basketballs attached to its base cushioned its landings. One of the covers became detached from the main frame during the demonstration, which had to be aborted.

The engineers said that the car needed more stability, so that the prototype would be able to fly for long enough and high enough to safely reach the Olympic flame.

According to Tsubasa Nakamura, head of Cartivator, the start-up aims to deliver a smooth transition between driving and flight, much like in the Back To The Future films.

“I always loved planes and cars and my long-time dream was to have a personal vehicle that can fly and go many places,” he said. According to Nakamura, the flying car is at an early stage of development, but Cartivator hopes to carry out a manned flight by the end of 2018.

Toyota has been backing research and development in emerging technologies, including investing $1 billion in artificial intelligence and robotics and entering, for a period, a partnership with Tesla to develop eco-friendly vehicles.

Many companies have been competing to develop the first flying car, or “vertical take-off and landing” (VTOL) vehicles. Uber has announced plans to begin offering a flying taxi service by 2020; Google has supported a flying car prototype called the Kitty Hawk Flyer; Urban Air Mobility – a dedicated division of Airbus – is working on a flying car, and Tesla aims to release the flying Model F car in 2019.

In April, German company Lilium successfully completed a demonstration of their VTOL vehicle, a “flying taxi” which they hope to use for urban ride-sharing services. The prototype performed mid-air manoeuvres, such as switching from helicopter-like hovering to aeroplane-like wing-borne flight.

Manufacturers hoping to be the first to commercialise their flying cars, however, will still need to convince regulators that the vehicles can be managed safely and in an environmentally friendly way. Already, for several years, governments have been discussing regulations for the issues surrounding driverless cars and drones.

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