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Japanese flying car hovers for a full minute in caged test

Image credit: AP video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=7&v=cmdilp9LM0E

A flying car that resembles a large drone with four propellers has been demonstrated hovering for about a minute by Japanese electronics firm NEC.

The aircraft was shown flying without a passenger in a caged environment and was powered by an onboard battery,

Taking place at an NEC facility in the Tokyo suburb of Abiko, the vehicle rose around 3m in the air before settling down on the ground again.

Preparations including repeated checks on the machine and warnings to reporters to wear helmets took up more time than the two brief demonstrations, the Associated Press reported.

“Japan is a densely populated country and that means flying cars could greatly alleviate the burden on road traffic,” said Kouji Okada, a leader of the project at NEC. “We are positioning ourselves as an enabler for air mobility, providing location data and building communications infrastructure for flying cars.”

The Japanese government wants citizens to have access to flying cars by the 2030s and it intends to build a huge test course for the vehicles in an area devastated by the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disasters at Fukushima.

Flying cars could become commonplace in the future as companies work to perfect the technology and make vehicles that are environmentally sound enough to be widely used and quiet enough to be driven in urban environments.

In April 2019, a report from University of Michigan researchers found that for longer trips over 35km, electrically-powered flying cars were more energy efficient than their ground-based counterparts.

Similar projects are popping up around world, such as those from Uber Air in the US and Japanese startup Cartivator, which has the backing of Toyota.

Uber is planning demonstrator flights in 2020 and commercial operations in 2023 and has chosen Dallas, Los Angeles and Melbourne as the first cities to offer Uber Air flights.

Meanwhile, Cartivator’s chief executive Tomohiro Fukuzawa was at Monday’s demonstration and said that its own machines were already flying for longer.

NEC is among the more than 80 sponsor companies for Cartivator’s flying car, which also include Toyota group companies and video game company Bandai Namco.

NEC officials said their flying car was designed for unmanned flights for deliveries, but utilised the company’s technology in its other operations such as space travel and cyber security.

All of the flying car concepts - akin to giant drones big enough to hold humans - promise to be better than helicopters. Helicopters are expensive to maintain, noisy to fly, dangerous when control is lost and always require trained pilots.

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