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Japan Has Built a Flying Car that Actually Works

The new vehicle reached a height of three metres and hovered for about a minute.

by Meera Navlakha and Gavin Butler
06 August 2019, 7:07am

Video still by Yuri Kageyama, via YouTube Screenshot.

Japan is the latest in a growing number of countries turning flyings cars into a tangible reality. On August 5, a vehicle by Tokyo-based NEC Corporation took flight and hovered steadily for about a minute before gently setting down to earth again—a first for a Japanese company.

This demonstration is just a small insight into the country's plans to utilize these vehicles. The government has thrown their support behind the flying car industry: aiming to have unmanned couriers in the skies by 2023, and people zipping around in the machines by the 2030s.

The large, battery-powered, drone-like machine—fitted with four propellers, three wheels, and what appears to be enough room for one to two passengers—embarked on its maiden test flight yesterday: lifting off to a height of about three metres at an NEC facility in a suburb of Tokyo, United Press International reports. Behold its aerial grace:

At about 3.9 meters length, 3.7 meters width, and weighing in at about 150 kilograms, the so-called EVtol—short for "electric vertical takeoff and landing" aircraft—is designed for unmanned flights for deliveries. The car was contained inside a netted cage at the time of its flight and those watching were told to wear helmets as a safety precaution. There were no passengers inside the car at the time.

Back in 2017, a previous attempt of the same nature was made by startup Cartivator. Their car crashed almost immediately after it took off. Tomohiro Fukuzawa, the Chief Executive of Cartivator who was present at NEC’s demonstration, said that their newer cars were also staying in the air longer.

Japan is not the only country to successfully test a flying vehicle. Dubai has reportedly been playing with the technology for years, most recently announcing plans for its police force to use flying motorcycles. A Singapore start-up revealed their one-seater flying car in April, while Google co-founder Larry Page backed flying taxis in New Zealand last year.

Companies are looking towards the advancement, too. Take Uber Elevate, Uber's attempt at “aerial taxis,” as reported by The Guardian. Complete designs of these vehicles are set to be unveiled in 2020, and the project is planned to take off in 2023. Other organizations such as Airbus, Boeing, and Volocopter are additional players in the game.

Japan has plenty of motivation to develop this mode of air travel. For one, they hope to connect isolated places such as the Mie Prefecture, a subdivision in Japan's Kansai region, to the central cities. Other factors come from Japan's bustle, as the country hopes to clear its roads with the elevated vehicles. Road and transportation traffic may have calmed down in Tokyo, falling 7.3 percent from 2018, but more than 8 million people continue to commute to the city daily.

"Japan is a densely populated country and that means flying cars could greatly alleviate the burden on road traffic," Kouji Okada, a project leader at NEC, told
Bloomberg

. "We are positioning ourselves as an enabler for air mobility, providing location data and building communications infrastructure for flying cars."


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This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.