Young engineers aim to light Tokyo cauldron with flying car

By Minoru Akita / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterTOYOTA, Aichi — Young engineers from the automobile and aviation industries have joined hands in a quest to develop a flying car that can be used to light the cauldron at the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Major aircraft makers and start-ups are already developing flying cars overseas. Although these vehicles could help with distribution, disaster rescue and in other areas, ensuring they are safe remains the biggest hurdle.

Cartivator, a voluntary organization made up of about 50 young engineers from Toyota Motor Corp., other car firms, aircraft makers and other manufacturers, launched a project in 2014 to develop a flying car it calls SkyDrive. The plan is for the car to be able to drive on roads, but also fly at about 100 kph at an altitude of about 10 meters. The driver would steer the vehicle with a steering wheel and use a lever to make it ascend and descend.

The group plans to fly an unmanned car in 2018 and a manned car in 2019.

The group’s members work on the project outside of their regular jobs and conduct experiments in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, and elsewhere. In May, 15 companies from the Toyota group offered ¥42.5 million in funding for the next three years. It is unusual for Toyota to give so much to support its employees’ external activities.

The group is aiming to have a flying car ready to sell to the general public in 2023.

“It could serve as a way to resolve traffic jams and be a means of transportation in places without roads. We want it to be something that makes the world a better place,” said Cartivator project leader Tsubasa Nakamura, 33.

There are other moves around the world to develop flying cars.

The major European aircraft maker Airbus has established a new project department to design a flying car it calls Vahana in Silicon Valley in the United States. It plans to make a test vehicle this year and hopes to have one ready for practical use in 2020.

A Slovakian start-up, AeroMobil, unveiled a flying car at a motor show in April. The company hopes to begin sales in 2020 and has already started taking reservations. Uber Technologies Inc. also announced a plan to develop a “flying taxi.” Its test flights are planned for 2020 in Texas and Dubai.

High safety hurdles

Although many believe flying cars are “technically possible,” as one person involved in such efforts put it, major safety issues stand in the way. If a car flying over an urban area were to crash or have an accident, numerous lives could be put in danger.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry said it is not studying rules and other regulations to prepare for the emergence of flying cars, nor is it exchanging information with other countries. Even if a flying car is given a special permit to participate in the Olympic opening ceremony, everyday use appears to be a long way off.

Flying objects with human passengers are regulated by the Civil Aeronautics Law, meaning a flying car would be considered an aircraft. Each design would need to obtain a “type certificate” and annual “airworthiness certificate” to show it can fly without falling apart. Operators would need to obtain technical certificates and pass skill and physical examinations, a process totally different to obtaining an automobile driver’s license.

Kenji Hanawa, an expert in automobile industry trends at Development Bank of Japan, said: “Flying cars would need much higher safety standards than automobiles. I think it’ll be a while before they become a common form of human transport.”Speech


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