Are flying cars having a moment? For the second time in less than a week, footage has emerged of a small-scale autonomous aircraft successfully getting off the ground — and crucially, in each case, with a real live human on board.
Toyota-backed Japanese startup SkyDrive revealed video from the latest test of its SD-03 flying car recently, showing off the aircraft’s first takeoff in a controlled environment at a Toyota testing facility where the battery-powered flier successfully and safely bore its human pilot six feet above the ground for approximately four minutes. While that may not seem like much, the private company’s vehicle — intended for deployment as an urban taxi by 2023 — joins a growing number of projects making their first forays into human testing, which has long been a distant dream for flying car makers.
Check it out:
Looking much like a quad-copter drone with just enough cockpit fairing to ensconce its human occupant, the SD-03 actually flies by way of four pairs of overhead propellers. Future versions bound for taxi duty would no doubt need to be designed to accommodate more than one person, but crossing that bridge seems much more doable now that the solo test has demonstrated that the concept actually works.
Last week, the Air Force also scored a testing milestone with its Hexa electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicle (eVTOL), strapping a human pilot in for a four-minute flight that reached heights near 40 feet. Like the SD-03, the monocopter-looking Hexa is powered by overhead propellers (only there’s 18 of them, instead of the SD-03’s 8). Unlike the SD-03, though, it’s more of an open-air experience for the pilot: The Hexa’s cockpit puts the pilot chair-upright with little to obscure the view. There are no side doors and definitely no F1 racer-like, sunk-in surroundings: just a single windshield and the open air.
The Hexa is an exploratory military vehicle, but the SD-03 — “designed to be the world’s smallest electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing model,” according to SkyDrive — is aimed at civilian use. In its goal to meet the Japanese government’s target of licensing airborne taxi service within the next three years, SkyDrive plans to evolve the car’s design so that it can accommodate two occupants. If development stays on track, the skies above Tokyo (and perhaps in cities everywhere) could one day look a little busier — all in the name of decongesting the streets below.