Toyota has joined the flying car craze by backing a group working on a drone-like vehicle that would soar 10 meters (33 feet) above the ground at speeds up to 100 km/h (62 mph). The “Skydrive” is being developed by Cartivator, a startup with around 30 young volunteers working with drone expert Masafumi Miwa from Tokushima University. The aim is to get the car flying by next year and have it commercialized in time to light the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games torch.
The 2.9 meter (9.5 foot) long SkyDrive would be the “world’s smallest” flying EV, though it’s worth noting that as of today, there are exactly no commercial flying cars. Cartivator’s model would be able to take off from any public road and be “intuitive” and easy to control, according to its Zenmono crowdfunding page.
Toyota chipped in around 40 million yen ($353,000) and offered the expertise of its mechanical engineers. The group has also received help from Taizo Sun, the founder of Japanese web game developer GungHo Online Entertainment, and about 2.5 million yen ($22,000) in crowdfunding pledges.
A lot of companies, including Uber, Larry Page’s Kitty Hawk startup and Chinese firm Ehang are working on flying cars, making them the tech world’s fanciful product du jour. However, testing and certifying aircraft in the US requires millions of dollars and the cooperation of federal regulators, so building one isn’t as easy as some pundits are making it seem. The HondaJet, for instance, was certified by the FAA in 2015, 12 years after the original proof-of-concept craft made its first flight.
Flying cars have fired the public’s imagination for decades, and the technology seems to be finally falling into place to make it happen. However, even if someone did build a cheap, safe and efficient sky car, officials would have to figure out how to license them, train pilots and work them into the air traffic control system, among numerous other hurdles.
However, Toyota has become keen on new technology, and announced plans last week to invest around 1.05 trillion yen ($9.3 billion) on new technology, even if it may seem outlandish now. “Things will not progress if you wait and provide money only when the technology is ready,” Toyota Chairman Takeshi Ichiyamada told Nikkei Asian Revew.