Look, Up in the Sky – It’s a Car!

September 19, 2020
Look, Up in the Sky – It’s a Car!

Flying cars by 2023?  That is the hope of Japan’s SkyDrive project which just conducted Japan’s very first manned flight of an “eVTOL,” or electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicle.

The aircraft, dubbed the “SD-03” is the world’s smallest eVTOL developed to date, requiring the same amount of space as two parked cars.  Originally funded by big name companies like Toyota, Panasonic, and Bandai Namco, a video-game developer, SkyDrive just received fresh funds from other groups, including the Development Bank of Japan.

Over 100 flying car projects are in the works worldwide, but very few have gotten off the ground with a person inside.  SkyDrive’s recent test at Japan’s Toyota Test Field lasted about four minutes and flew a few feet off the ground.

Video Spotlight: 

This post is based on the Fox Business article, Japanese flying car company conducts successful test flight, by Greg Norman, August 28, 2020; the CNN article Japanese company successfully tests a manned flying car for the first time, by Lauren M. Johnson, September 1, 2020; and the YouTube video in the Spotlight. Image source: Chesky/Shutterstock

Discussion Questions:

1.   What key design challenges must be overcome for SkyDrive’s vehicle to become viable?

Guidance: Some of the main hurdles include extending flight time from a few minutes to at least 30 minutes, making it affordable, and making sure the vehicles are safe. In conjunction with these issues, battery size is key.

2. What regulatory issues need to be resolved before SkyDrive’s vision of individual flying cars can become a reality?

Guidance: In the legal-political dimension of the external environment, air traffic control regulations and other issues related to infrastructure must be sorted out.  Governments as well as consumers will need to be convinced that flying cars are a safe and reliable way of traveling about.

3. What examples of redundancy, or the use of backup parts or systems can be seen in the process so far?

Guidance: During the test flight, a pilot flew the vehicle, but he was aided by a computer-assisted control system to make sure the craft remained stable and safe.  Meanwhile a further backup was the airfield’s technical staff which monitored flight conditions and tracked the vehicle’s performance.  From a design standpoint, the aircraft is equipped with eight motors to make sure the vehicle can perform reliably in emergency situations.

4. Would the work on the SD-03 be considered basic research, or applied research?

Guidance: Basic research is done for the sake of advancing a body of knowledge, whereas applied research is done in order to translate it into an immediate commercial application.  The SD-03 would be considered applied research even though it has been in the works for a long time.  The project began as a volunteer effort in 2012, and SkyDrive hopes to make the aircraft into a commercially viable product by 2023.  It remains to be seen if this is a realistic goal.  The company hopes to sell its eVOTL in China and other global markets.


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