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Japanese flying car gets off ground for a minute, may hit markets by 2026

Japan isn't the only country seeking to usher in a flying-car utopia; Dubai, Singapore, and New Zealand have expressed similar intentions

Ma Jie | Bloomberg 

flying taxis
This is a representational image of a flying car from Shutterstock

It was caged and only hovered for about a minute, but it flew: a new

Made by NEC Corp, the vehicle is essentially a large drone with four propellers that's capable of carrying people. The Japanese electronics maker demonstrated the machine, flying without a passenger, at a Tokyo suburb on Monday. Powered by a battery, it rose briefly to about 3 meters (10 ft) above the ground before settling down again.

Behind the somewhat underwhelming, drama-free demonstration lies a bigger ambition: Japan's government wants the country to become a leader in flying cars after missing out on advancements in technology such as electric cars and ride-hailing services. The country's technological roadmap calls for shipping goods by flying cars by around 2023 and letting people ride in flying cars in cities by the 2030s.

"Japan is a densely populated country and that means flying cars could greatly alleviate the burden on road traffic," said Kouji Okada, a leader of the project at NEC. "We are positioning ourselves as an enabler for air mobility, providing location data and building communications infrastructure for flying cars."

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For the past few years, Japan has seen the emergence of a small, passionate flying-car community that believes Japan has the engineering expertise and right environment to foster a global industry. Venture capitalists in the country set up a specialised fund, known as the Drone Fund, devoted to investing in autonomous aircraft in general and flying-car businesses in particular.

Although Monday's demo is among the first by a major Japanese corporation, NEC isn't planning to mass-produce the flying car, according to Okada. Instead project partner Cartivator will start mass producing the transportation machine in 2026, according to the startup's co-founder, Tomohiro Fukuzawa.

NEC engineers and Cartivator, which it sponsors, spent about a year developing the model. It's about 3.9 meters long, 3.7 meters wide and 1.3 meters tall, and weighs about 150 kilograms. It's being tested in a large 10-meter-by-20-meter cage that's 2 meters tall, to make sure it doesn't fly out of control and injure someone, or cause damage.

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Japan isn't the only country seeking to usher in a flying-car utopia; Dubai, Singapore, and New Zealand have expressed similar intentions. Google co-founder Larry Page's Kitty Hawk Corp is also working on a flying car, as is Uber Technologies Inc.

Eventually, NEC's will be set free: Cartivator has been granted a permit for outdoor flights by Japanese government.

First Published: Mon, August 05 2019. 14:44 IST