SkyDrive

A piloted flying car just had its first successful test in Japan

Flying cars have been a pop culture fantasy for generations. The idea of levitating out of our driveways and zipping around the tops of skyscrapers is the sort of thing we were promised by sci-fi writers and futurists, but unfortunately, technology hasn't been able to deliver. Now, a company called Sky Drive has put us one step closer to our dreams with the successful piloted test flight of a flying car.

The demonstration, which was open to the public, took place on August 25 at the Toyota Test Field, a 2.5-acre plot of land located in central Japan. The car, known as the SD-03, took off and completed several laps around the field with a pilot behind the wheel, though a computer-assisted control system was largely at the helm, managing flight stability and helping to perform the take off and landing. The test run lasted all of four minutes but serves as an important landmark in the progress toward creating a flying vehicle.

Sky Drive has been working on its flying vehicle for two years now, according to the company, and has a goal of creating a commercial version of the personal aircraft. The SD-03, which has been undergoing safety testing for eight months in the lead-up to the recent demonstration, is its best shot at that goal. The vehicle, which is about the size of two standard cars but is currently a single-seat vehicle, is designed to be the smallest electric craft capable of performing a vertical takeoff and landing.

As one might imagine, getting such a vehicle off the ground is no easy task. Inside the SD-03 is a considerable amount of power. There are eight total electric motors, with two rotors that rotate individually in opposite directions. The company says its system ensures safety during flight and should meet compliance standards for similar types of vehicles, though the potential of flying cars also almost certainly promises new safety regulations.

Sky Drive isn't the only company currently in pursuit of crafting a flying car. Toyota has filed a patent for a flying car concept, though it's not clear if the company is actively working on the project. Uber brought on a former NASA aircraft engineer to work on Uber Elevate, a proposed vertical take-off and landing craft. Google co-founder Larry Page has at least two flying car startups that he is backing. Then there are upstarts like the PAL-V, which is more of a car/helicopter hybrid, and the AeroMobil, a mashup of a car and a prop plane.

All of these projects see the sky as the limit, but likely have a considerable amount of road to cover before they can get off the ground. Sky Drive is looking to conduct its first tests outside of the air strip where it performed its piloted test run before the end of the year and launch a commercial product by 2023, but it's going to be a while before you're soaring over the open roads.

Earlier this year, New Hampshire became the first state to allow flying cars, but most states and countries will want to adopt strict approvals before allowing these crafts in the sky. Odds are, flying cars will occupy a similar category as self-driving vehicles: something that we continue to see glimpses of, but widespread adoption is likely still a ways off.