In the last week of August, Toyota-sponsored SkyDrive autonomous flying car, the SD-03 prototype, carried out a successful test flight.
When Toyota engineers decided in 2012 to design and build a flying car in their spare time, they hardly thought they would run a public test flight in Tokyo as part of a multi-million dollar budget program by the end of the decade.
Until 2017, the Cartivator project operated as a virtually non-profit hobby club, in which, in addition to the aforementioned Toyota professionals, employees from other companies working in other fields also participated, developing the prototype from weekend to weekend. Then, when the Toyota Group’s 15 companies provided significant financial support for the Cartivator project, events accelerated: they created SkyDrive, a company that has come to the attention of more and more investors in recent years.
After the company first conducted a successful test flight with a pilot-controlled, multi-rotor aircraft in Japan just half a year ago, the next-generation, more graceful SD-03 prototype has now been unveiled and tested. The four-meter-long and equally wide vehicle has a height of two meters, with two encapsulated swivels rotating in opposite directions at each of the four corners to move the single-seat structure along vertical and horizontal planes. Each impeller is driven by its own electric motor; this design was chosen primarily for safety reasons.
The test flight took place on August 25 at Toyota’s central test track. In the ten-thousand-square-meter facility belonging to the car manufacturer’s R&D center, the single-seater structure rose into the air in the early evening, and then landed safely after about four minutes of flight. The developers sent the prototype together with a test pilot for safety, but in the end he didn’t have to intervene: the self-driving computer of the flying car perfectly controlled the entire flight process.
The SkyDrive SD-03 is the world’s smallest eVTOL (electric-powered, vertical take-off and landing) aircraft, in line with the developers ’original ideas.
“The larger and stronger the rotor blades, the slower they respond to gas commands and the harder it is to precisely control the direction and height of the flying car.”
Ryutaro Mori, a member of the company’s board of directors and co-founder, explained in an earlier interview. They also agreed from the outset that the control of the flying car should be entrusted to advanced autonomous software.
“Even if the pilot initially sits in the driver’s seat, semi-autonomous control will provide ongoing support.”
Ryutaro Mori explained at the time, adding that the flying car would not be a boring structure yet:
“There will also be flying cars that are being developed specifically for leisure purposes, for the pleasure of flying, and that pilots will be able to take full control of them.”
Although the design of the SD-03 prototype is clearly reminiscent of the drones also included in SkyDrive’s portfolio, the design emphasized the need to determine at first glance which nose and tail. The pearly white paintwork of the coupe-like body was inspired by flying birds and clouds drifting in the sky. As for the next steps of the project, SkyDrive will start longer test flights in increasingly complex environmental conditions, partly to improve the technology, partly to get closer to the final goal, type certification and regulatory approval.
The company hopes the SD-03 will be able to leave the closed test track before the end of the year and continue testing in the open field. Chief Technology Officer Nobuo KISHI is setting fairly tight deadlines for the company: plans to launch SkyDrive airplane transport services as early as fiscal 2023, and free-to-market airplanes from 2030, with significant additional generous support from Toyota.