People have long dreamt of a car that flies through the sky.
Japan’s SkyDrive has carried out a successful, but modest test flight of such a vehicle carrying a person. It is just one of the many “flying car” projects around the world.
In a video shown to reporters last week, a vehicle that looked like a motorcycle with propellers lifted up to two meters off the ground. It flew in circles in a protected area for four minutes.
Tomohiro Fukuzawa heads the SkyDrive effort. He said he hopes the flying car can be made into a real-life product by 2023. However, he noted the importance of safety.
“Of the world’s more than 100 flying car projects, only a handful has succeeded with a person on board,” he told The Associated Press.
“I hope many people will want to ride it and feel safe.”
The machine so far can fly for just five to 10 minutes, but if the flight time can be extended to 30 minutes, the car will have more possibilities. For example, it could be exported to places like China, Fukuzawa said.
Unlike airplanes and helicopters, “electric vertical takeoff and landing” vehicles, or eVTOL, generally offer quick point-to-point personal travel. They could do away with having to deal with airports, traffic jams and the cost of paying for pilots. Such vehicles could even fly without a pilot.
Battery sizes, air traffic control and other issues are among the main problems to overcome before selling them to the public.
“Many things have to happen,” said Sanjiv Singh, professor at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. He helped start Near Earth Autonomy, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The company also develops eVTOL systems.
“If they cost $10 million, no one is going to buy them. If they fly for 5 minutes, no one is going to buy them. If they fall out of the sky…no one is going to buy them,” Singh said.
SkyDrive’s flying car began as a volunteer project in 2012. The project received financial support from top Japanese companies including carmaker Toyota, electronics company Panasonic and video-game developer Bandai Namco.
A demonstration flight three years ago did not go well. But the flying car has improved, and the project recently received additional support of $37 million, including money from the Development Bank of Japan.
The Japanese government has expressed support for the futuristic project, with a “road map” for business services by 2023. The goal is to expand the flying car’s commercial use by the 2030s. It also has noted possible uses for connecting faraway areas and providing transportation in disasters.
Experts compare the excitement about flying cars to the days when the aviation industry got started with the Wright Brothers and the auto industry with the Ford Model T.
Lilium of Germany, Joby Aviation in California and Wisk, a joint business involving Boeing and the company Kitty Hawk, are also working on eVTOL projects.
Sebastian Thrun is chief executive of Kitty Hawk. Thrun said it took time for airplanes, cell phones and self-driving cars to win acceptance.
“But the time between technology and social adoption might be more compressed for eVTOL vehicles,” he said.
I’m Mario Ritter, Jr.
Yuri Kageyama reported this story for the Associated Press. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
modest –adj. not large or complicated
propeller –n. a device with two or more blades that turns very quickly causing ships or aircraft to move
vertical –adj. positioned up and down
traffic jam –n. a situation where many cars are on the road but they cannot pass because traffic is blocked or slow
battery –n. a device that stores electrical charge
commercial –adj. related to or used in the buying and selling of goods
aviation – n. the flying or operation of an aircraft
adoption –n. to accept something
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