Toyota, known for its environmentally friendly hybrid electric cars and the high-tech technologies and standardised active safety systems they feature, agreed back in May 2017 to allow a team of engineers to start developing the flying car technology. The carmaker is now supporting 30 Toyota engineers who have been working on the idea in their spare time. The design team, calling itself Cartivator, was originally originally started the project with community funding. However, Toyota seems to have taken up the project and in 2018 raised the possibility of building a flying car and launched a project to design its own ground/air vehicle. Toyota has registered a patent for a “dual-mode car”. The patent covers, among other things, the “wheels” of the flying car and “a method of switching from ground mode to flying mode”.
When the car is about to fly, the casing of the propellers folds out to the side and the rotors begin to spin. The rotors rotate in the same way as the propellers of a classic helicopter or drone, providing enough lift to fly. According to the patent specification, the car maker would power each rotor with an electric motor, which would receive power from the car’s central drive. This central drive could be a battery, a gas turbine, a hydrogen cell or other.
Toyota previously dubbed the project “SkyDrive” after engineers presented a life-size model to company executives in July 2017.The basic idea for SkyDrive was born in 2012, when Toyota engineer Tsubasa Nakamura and his friends won a competition with an early design for a flying vehicle: the development team entered the competition as Cartivator. The 30-strong team of Toyota engineers started working on SkyDrive in 2014 and the project has been moving forward at a fast pace ever since: first they raised money for the project through community funding, and have tested several study models, but now Toyota has got behind them to build a life-size prototype that can be tested by a real pilot. According to the Nikkei Asia Review, Toyota decided to back the project because President Takeshi Uchiyamada said that “things will never move forward if we wait and give money when a technology is ready”.
The SkyDrive will be 2.9 metres long, 1.3 metres wide and 1.1 metres high, making it the world’s smallest flying car, according to the manufacturer. The vehicle is designed to fly at 100 km/h and have a top road speed of 150 km/h. SkyDrive uses similar technologies to drones, such as a four-rotor layout. The vehicle can be controlled by changing the rotation speed of each rotor. It can climb up to a height of ten metres and, because it will be able to take off and land vertically, it will not need a roadway or runway.