The island nation’s first licensed human test flight was made a few days ago by a two-person flying car piloted by a robot and relying on propellers instead of wheels.
According to Nikkei, a group of local aerospace and automotive companies recently conducted a successful test of a two-seater self-driving flying car in Japan. The vehicle, which is 1.7 meters high and 5.6 meters wide, flew without a human pilot and travelled approximately 400 meters at an altitude of around 30 meters. The test was conducted on a man-made island in Oita and lasted for 3.5 minutes, during which the vehicle manoeuvred steadily. The test’s leader reported that the flight was perfect, and it was also the first time that the relevant ministry allowed an open-air test flight with people on board.
The test was significant because Japan’s mountainous areas and small islands can be difficult to access, and a manoeuvrable, compact vehicle that can transport people would greatly facilitate access to these areas. The consortium that conducted the test, the Okayama Kurashiki Mizushima Aero & Space Industry Cluster Study Group (MASC), was formed in 2017 to investigate possible solutions for remote island logistics. MASC plans to establish an air traffic hub in Okayama Prefecture and develop infrastructure to transport people and goods to areas that are challenging to reach using other modes of transport.
Difficult terrain in a different way
Reforming air transportation with self-driving vehicles presents unique challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, there are fewer potential hazards in the air compared to land transport, but even small problems can pose a significant threat to human life. Therefore, making mistakes is not an option, and regulatory standards are more rigorous.
Due to this dichotomy, the development of self-driving air and land transport is at similar stages. Self-driving taxis are just beginning to be tested in real street conditions, while a new semi-mass transport service utilizing self-driving flying taxi shuttles is expected to launch during the 2025 World Expo in Osaka, Japan. The service will connect the exhibition area with various parts of the city, demonstrating the potential of self-driving vehicles for public transportation.