The dream of zipping around in the sky in a flying car could be one step closer to becoming a reality after a successful test flight.
Japan’s SkyDrive Inc., among the many “flying car” projects around the world, has carried out a successful though modest* test flight with one person aboard.
In a video shown to reporters, a contraption* that looked like a motorbike with propellers lifted 1m-2m off the ground, and hovered in a netted area for four minutes.
Tomohiro Fukuzawa, who heads the SkyDrive effort, said he hopes “the flying car” can be made into a real-life product by 2023, but he acknowledged* that making it safe was critical.
“Of the world’s more than 100 flying car projects, only a handful has succeeded with a person on board,” he said.
“I hope many people will want to ride it and feel safe.”
Flying Car Takes Off in Japan—a Little Bit
The machine so far can fly for just five to 10 minutes but if that can become 30 minutes, it will have more potential, including exports to places like China, Mr Fukuzawa said.
Unlike aeroplanes and helicopters, eVTOL, or “electric vertical takeoff and landing,” vehicles offer quick point-to-point personal travel, at least in principle.
They could do away with the hassle of airports and traffic jams and the cost of hiring pilots as they could fly automatically.
Battery sizes, air traffic control and other infrastructure* issues are among the many potential challenges to commercialising* them.
“Many things have to happen,” said Sanjiv Singh, professor at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, who co-founded Near Earth Autonomy, near Pittsburgh, US, which is also working on an eVTOL aircraft.
“If they cost $US10 million (about $AUD14 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 every so often, no one is going to buy them,” Prof Singh said.
The SkyDrive project began humbly* as a volunteer project called Cartivator in 2012, with funding by top Japanese companies including carmaker Toyota Motor Corp., electronics company Panasonic Corp. and video-game developer Bandai Namco.
A demonstration flight three years ago went poorly. But it has improved and the project recently received another round of funding, of 3.9 billion yen (about $50 million), including from the Development Bank of Japan.
The Japanese government is bullish* on “the Jetsons*” vision, with a plan for business services by 2023, and expanded commercial use by the 2030s, promoting its potential for connecting remote areas and providing lifelines in disasters.
Experts compare the buzz over flying cars to the days when the aviation* industry got started with the Wright brothers and the car industry with the Ford Model T.
Lilium of Germany, Joby Aviation in California and Wisk, a joint venture between Boeing Co. and Kitty Hawk Corp., are also working on eVTOL projects.
Sebastian Thrun, chief executive of Kitty Hawk, said it took time for aeroplanes, mobile 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.
- modest: simple and not grand
- contraption: machine that seems unnecessarily complicated
- acknowledged: accepted as true
- infrastructure: basic physical structures for organisations, such as roads, water pipes and electricity networks
- commercialising: operating in a way to make money
- humbly: meekly, simply, without being grand
- bullish: aggressively confident and assertive
- Jetsons: futuristic 1960s US TV series about a family called the Jetsons
- aviation: to do with flying and aeroplanes
- compressed: condensed, made shorter or smaller
- List three facts about the test flight.
- What three kinds of companies were involved in Cartivator in 2012?
- How did a demonstration flight three years ago go?
- What pioneering aviators are mentioned?
- What does eVTOL stand for?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. From Dream to Reality
Flying cars may seem like a dream but this article explains how it is beginning to move from ‘dream’ to ‘reality’. However, there is still a fair way to go before we will be arriving at school via a flying car.
The article outlines some challenges that need to be worked out before we will see these eVTOL vehicles on the market.
Read through the article carefully to find and list some of the challenges that need to be worked out.
It needs to be able to fly for long enough time to get somewhere (not for only 5 minutes).
When the technology is safe and readily available there will be challenges to work out how these cars can be used safely and easily in our towns and cities.
List some of these challenges.
Can you come up with a sky traffic system with a series of rules to help make the introduction of this technology into our society safe?
You might like to think of the current road traffic system (with rules of driving on the left, giving way to oncoming traffic, signs and speed limits, traffic lights etc), the current air traffic control system (with rules on planes taking off, having flight plans and flight paths etc) and the current water safety systems (with rules such as smaller vessels giving way to larger vessels etc) to help you come up with some rules.
Some things to think about …
- Do the flying cars need to follow above existing roads or can they go anywhere?
- Can cars go past other cars only on their left and right? Or can they go over or below them too?
- How will pilots of flying cars know where they are or how to get where they are going when they see everything from above?
- Can flying cars land on top of buildings?
- Will there be speed limits?
- Do you need a licence? How old must you be to drive a flying car?
- What signs will there need to be?
- How high can you travel?
Time: allow 20 minutes to complete the first part of this activity, 60 minutes total to also complete the challenge activity
Curriculum Links: English, Technologies – Design and Technologies, Critical and Creative Thinking
In your mind, press FAST FORWARD and take yourself to a day in 20 years’ time, to when this new technology of flying cars is the norm. Draw a picture of what your state/territory’s capital city may look like. What new infrastructure (buildings/landmarks/signs etc) would you see? What will the current road system look like? Will there still be vehicles? What type? What will the skyline look like?
Label your picture to highlight some of the differences that you might see in the 20 years compared to now.
Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Technologies – Design and Technologies, Critical and Creative thinking, The Arts – Visual Arts
Opener Up-Level It
Make a list of all the openers in the article. Pick three that repeat and see if you can replace them with another word, or shuffle the order of the sentence to bring a new opener to the front.
Don’t forget to re-read the sentence to make sure it still makes sense, and that it actually sounds better.
HAVE YOUR SAY: When you grow up, will you choose a flying car or a regular car?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.