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Japan’s Electronic Maker Shows ‘Flying Car’; Hopes to Connect with its Various Islands

Similar projects are popping up around world, such as Uber Air of the U.S

Japanese electronics maker NEC Corp. on Monday showed a “flying car,” a large drone-like machine with four propellers that hovered steadily for about a minute. The test flight reaching 3 meters (10 feet) high was held in a gigantic cage, as a safety precaution, at an NEC facility in a Tokyo suburb. The preparations such as the repeated checks on the machine and warnings to reporters to wear helmets took up more time than the two brief demonstrations.

The Japanese government is behind flying cars, with the goal of having people zipping around in them by the 2030s. Among the government-backed endeavors is a huge test course for flying cars that’s built in an area devastated by the 2011 tsunami, quake and nuclear disasters in Fukushima in northeastern Japan. Mie, a prefecture in central Japan that’s frequently used as a resort area by Hollywood celebrities, also hopes to use flying cars to connect its various islands.

Similar projects are popping up around world, such as Uber Air of the U.S. A flying car by Japanese startup Cartivator crashed quickly in a 2017 demonstration. Cartivator Chief Executive Tomohiro Fukuzawa, who was at Monday’s demonstration, said their machines were also flying longer lately.

NEC is among the more than 80 sponsor companies for Cartivator’s flying car, which also include Toyota Motor Corp. group companies and video game company Bandai Namco Holdings.  The goal is to deliver a seamless transition from driving to flight like the world of “Back to the Future,” although huge hurdles remain such as battery life, the need for regulations and safety concerns.

Flying Car
Fumiaki Ebihara, the flying-car chief at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, speaks during a interview with the Associated Press in Tokyo, Sept. 4, 2018. VOA

NEC officials said their flying car was designed for unmanned flights for deliveries but utilized the company’s technology in its other operations such as space travel and cybersecurity.  Often called EVtol, for “electric vertical takeoff and landing” aircraft, a flying car is defined as an aircraft that’s electric, or hybrid electric, with driverless capabilities, that can land and takeoff vertically.

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All of the flying car concepts, which are like drones big enough to hold humans, promise to be better than helicopters. Helicopters are expensive to maintain, noisy to fly and require trained pilots. Flying cars also are being touted as useful for disaster relief.

U.S. ride-sharing and transportation network Uber is planning demonstrator flights in 2020 and commercial operations in 2023, and has chosen Dallas, Los Angeles and Melbourne as the first cities to offer what it calls Uber Air flights. Dubai has also been aggressive about pursuing flying cars. Japanese officials say Japan has a good chance of emerging as a world leader because the government and the private sector will work closely together. (VOA)

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