According to The Asahi Shimbun, a car that takes to the air to light the Olympic cauldron might sound like a fantasy, but young engineers are working here to make it a reality at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
The automotive and aviation engineers are aiming to run their vehicle on the track of the new National Stadium and fly it to the Olympic cauldron to light the flame at the opening ceremony.
To develop a car that can be both driven and flown, a group of 20 engineers ranging in age from 26 to 35, which calls itself Cart!vator, is conducting experiments at a disused school deep in the mountains.
The group was established in 2012 by Tsubasa Nakamura, 32, an automobile expert, to “provide a dream for the next generation.”
Its goal is to improve the vehicle so that it can travel freely to avoid traffic jams or airlift injured people during times of natural disaster even when roads cannot be used.
“If technological innovation is achieved in the battery performance and other fields, the vehicle could be commercialized in the future,” said Masafumi Miwa, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Tokushima University's graduate school, who is working with the group.
Under the current plan, the flying car will measure 2.9 meters long and 1.3 meters wide. It will be based on a single-seater electric tricycle, with two propellers--one at the lower part and the other at the upper section--at each of the four corners.
The vehicle can take off and land vertically. It will be operated with the steering wheel and accelerator pedal either in the air or on the road.
The Cart!vator group is looking to upgrade the vehicle so that it will ultimately be able to fly 50 kilometers at an altitude of 150 meters.
Members exchange information through video calling on weekdays and engage in development together at the former school premises on weekends.
They created a smaller prototype of the flying car in 2014. Last year, the group purchased a full-scale prototype made by a joint researcher, using 2.6 million yen (US$25,300) raised online.
Nakamura and his colleagues are now working to improve the body of the prototype and the computer program to control the rotation rate of the propellers.
“The larger the body becomes, the more difficult it becomes to elevate it in the air in a stable manner,” said Nakamura.
So far, the current model can fly at an altitude of only 1 meter for up to just five seconds.
The group said it plans to reduce the vehicle’s weight from the current 180 kilograms to about 100 kg by replacing the aluminum frame with one made of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic.
The biggest challenge is how to raise the necessary funds. The group estimates an additional 30 million yen is needed for a manned flight and is calling on companies and investors to provide funding and parts.
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