Some don’t give up on the vision outlined by the films Back to the Future. Japanese engineers at NEC Corporation believe that people will one day fly cars. The vehicle they developed is practically a drone designed to transport people. The first – unmanned – flight of the four-propeller aircraft has already taken place in Tokyo.
The demonstration did not last long, only a minute, the structure rose about 3 meters above the ground, but at least it flew. The demonstration was held in a cage built directly for this purpose, as on the one hand the flight of such planes is not officially allowed for the time being, and on the other hand they tried to guarantee the safety of the operating staff. Japan wants to play a pioneering role in the introduction of flying cars, with their ambitious vision that by 2023 flying cars will be carrying some of the goods, and from 2030 onwards, people will be able to travel with them.
Japan is a very densely populated country, flying cars would significantly reduce road congestion. We see ourselves as a company that enables the proliferation of flying cars by building the necessary infrastructure and developing the technology, ”said Kouji Okada, project manager at NEC Corporation.Nevertheless, the company itself does not plan to manufacture the flying car. Production is scheduled to begin in 2026 with partner company Cartivator. The two companies have been developing the vehicle for more than a year, but a lot of information has not yet come to light regarding the technical data. All you know is that it will be completely electric, but no information has yet been provided on driving performance or range.
The structure is otherwise 3.9 meters long, 3.7 meters wide and 1.3 meters high. Its weight – compared to its size – is surprisingly light, weighing only 150 kg on the scales. Presumably, the batteries were not packed with too much capacity. More news and data will arrive soon after the Japanese government has given permission for test flights. By the way, NEC Corporation is not the only company involved in the development of flying cars, Google and Uber are also working on their own vehicles.
The revolution of flying cars is taking place before our eyes
In the field of car development, the emergence and expected proliferation of electric cars has been one of the hit topics in recent times. Surprisingly, however, with the end of the year and the beginning of the new year, news of the development of flying cars (and their relatives) and their commercial commissioning has multiplied again. It is no coincidence that the development companies that appear in the news were in almost all cases connected to some kind of startup, and very rarely to classic, traditional car manufacturers.
One of the great questions to be solved in our modern age is how the inhabitants and operators of large cities with a growing population can overcome the obstacles to traffic. There are several solutions, such as the development of automatic underground cars, high-speed railways or self-driving cars, buses. And so are flying cars, or any descendants of these. Flying over crowded crowds is a great temptation for developers and potential buyers alike. Although we haven’t seen anything like it in everyday traffic, the idea isn’t dead, in fact! Great things are coming. There have been countless attempts in recent decades to make a flying car that can be used in everyday life, but such has not been born to date.
However, with its technical advancement, the opportunity has come closer than ever. The well-proven helicopter is there for personal flight, they might say. Helicopter flight, on the other hand, is expensive, only available to the rich on a daily basis, not to mention the education, permits needed to fly, and the need for at least one trained pilot on board to fly the plane. What would cause a visible change in passenger air travel for the masses is either a cheap, fully automated (and thus safe) personal aircraft or a flying taxi “like” available to the general public. Jumping from one end of the city to the other in a few minutes, or getting to the train station from the edge of the city, these are really attractive development promises. Following the fantastic movies of small private flying “objects” flying over the streets en masse is not an option for the near future.
The fact that the case of flying cars (or what) is not dead is also shown by the fact that there were several exhibitions on this topic at this year’s CES, and last year serious companies also made big announcements on the subject. In personal flight, two main directions try to unfold its wings.
The first is the “traditional” fixed-wing flying car. In this case, a vehicle operating on the ground as an ordinary car flaps its wings on the runway and, like a traditional small plane, flies a few hundred kilometers with its two passengers. It is powered by a conventional petrol engine, possibly with some kind of electrical assistance or in hybrid mode. Its spread is obviously somewhat hampered by the fact that a landing run (i.e. an airport) is required for landing, not one of them, but a solid pavement due to the low-suspension car wheels.
Last year, much to his surprise, Volvo’s Chinese parent company bought American start-up company Terrafugia flying car. Terrafugia is one of the pioneers in this field, and their first prototype has already flown several times. A similarly beautiful and mature technology seems to be Czech Aeromobil’s vehicle called “Flying car” (what else), which also has an experimental take-off permit. None of the companies are yet to sell their finished aircraft, but a pre-order will be picked up for 2019-20 shipments.
Airplanes, in addition to being able to roll as a car on the highway and park in a home garage, are still just airplanes. They must be licensed as pilots and must comply with traditional flight rules in all respects. There is no boarding or landing at the end of the street, they have to roll (or fly) to a nearby airport. In light of this, beyond being spectacular vehicles, they are unlikely to revolutionize metropolitan transportation.
Another area that is developing more dynamically is the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) machines, which are also known as “drones”. The appearance of drones still flying mostly without people today was made possible by electronics, including electric motors, high-capacity batteries, precision accelerometers, and electronic gyroscopes. Rotors driven by multiple electric motors are controlled by sophisticated electronics, allowing the aircraft to move and maneuver. Because there are no expensive mechanics, these machines can be operated much cheaper than helicopters.
And because they are better than flying cars? With enough power, these vehicles can take off and land in a fully autonomous mode, even in an area of just a few times ten square meters, and even in a densely populated big city. And to dispel some of the mistakes: with these vehicles, you don’t have to expect anyone, anywhere, anytime, to get on or off and fly. But on a so-called boundary (designated) runway, from a designated take-off and landing point like a taxi, it takes one or two of its passengers to a destination a few dozen kilometers away and lands safely there.
From the hotel to the top of the nearby shopping center. From the airport to the top of the hotels in the city. From downtown to the train station on the outskirts of the city. And this type of traffic can be attractive to passengers, as an otherwise half-hour or one-hour route can be shortened to ten minutes.
There is a lot of hustle and bustle around the development of these machines. At this year’s CES show, the German Volocopter has already done a demonstration flight. The plane was still “restrained” by rope because of the permits, but if it had wanted to, it could have flown out of the show. Incidentally, several other manufacturers presented a working concept at the exhibition. UBER wants to introduce the world’s first flying, unmanned taxi service in the Americas and the Emirates. You probably won’t have to expect to land at any address, but will proceed on the fixed track mentioned earlier.
The Chinese-made Ehang 184 has also been introduced as one of the candidates for the Dubai air taxi service. This type is said to be over thousands of people taking off and landing. China is working hard to be among the first in this field as well.
Airbus has launched several such projects, of which their PoPUp program promises to be very spectacular, promising a full ground-to-air service chain so that in many cases the passenger does not even have to get off the ground and then depart by air. Another program from Airbus, already called Vahana, is already conducting test flights in America. We will see as early as this year who will have the priority.
Some of the tasks to be solved are only technology. Aviation regulation will need to accelerate (or slow down) developments for these tools in the same way. As with many other similar technological developments, it is expected that a tool will be ready sooner than the associated regulation. But the point is to meet sooner or later, and sooner than something unexpected happens. Let’s spy on the sky!