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Toyota-backed SkyDrive makes its first public, piloted test flight


Toyota automobile backed SkyDrive, has conducted a public, crewed test flight (via Observer) for its flying car after years of work. The startup flew its SD-03 vehicle around the Toyota Test Field in the city of Toyota, Japan with a pilot at the helm. While it wasn’t autonomous, as you might have guessed, it showed that the aircraft could work as promised in the field.

The SD-03 is billed as the smallest electric VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) vehicle in the world, and it’s meant to usher in a “new means of transportation” for urban life. It has a total of eight rotors that help it fly safely even if there’s a motor failure.

It could be a long time before you see SkyDrive flying cars in action. The company is hoping for approval for flights beyond the test field by the end of 2020, and it expects a two-seat commercial machine by 2023. That lines up with Japan’s timeline for launching flying taxi service. Even so, this is another hint at a future where small, short-hop aircraft could help alleviate traffic (and ideally, speed up trips) in crowded cities.

However, naysayers of the public flying in vehicles like SkyDrive are numerous and they doubt whether the average citizen has the skills need for flying around a major city on their own, and they say people falling from the sky from accidents is something that society is not prepared for.

Instead, the future of SkyDrive and similar projects may be related to their ability for farmers to reach crops in large areas easily and for some commercial / industrial applications.

Tomohiro Fukuzawa, who heads the SkyDrive effort, said he hopes “the flying car” can be made into a real-life product by 2023 but 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.

Unlike airplanes and helicopters, in principle, electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicles offer quick point-to-point personal travel, and could bypass traffic jams and speed up travel. However, air traffic control, battery capabilities, licensing, safely protocols and other infrastructure issues are among the many challenges that will need to be addressed before eVTOL’s can be commercialized.

Sanjiv Singh, professor at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, who co-founded Near Earth Autonomy, near Pittsburgh, which is also working on an eVTOL aircraft said that, “Many things have to happen. 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 every so often, no one is going to buy them.”




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