According to The Asahi Shimbun, NEC succeeded in a test flight of its airborne vehicle here at its Abiko plant in Japan. However, it intends to focus on engineering the foundation for safe flights, rather than joining other companies in the air.
“Amazon.com, Google, Airbus and other corporations are aggressively competing with one another in the development of flying vehicles, but there are fewer rivals in the creation of infrastructure for flight control that can utilize existing technologies,” said Hisanao Funako, manager of NEC’s business strategy planning group.
Despite its successful flight test, NEC said it will not mass-produce its flying vehicle. Instead, it will concentrate resources into developing the flight control system, communications technology and countermeasures against elements that could hamper operations.
Currently, businesses from large global companies to start-up firms are boosting efforts to create flying vehicles in hopes of transferring passengers in urban and mountainous areas as well as transporting injured individuals and relief goods in emergencies.
These vertical take-off and landing aircraft are being developed to automatically carry goods and passengers in the future without a pilot.
In Japan, the government established the Public-Private Council for Air Transportation Revolution in the summer of 2018. In addition to NEC, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the University of Tokyo, Japan Airlines Co. and Subaru Corp. are involved in the development of flying vehicles.
NEC's trial test in August marked a significant step toward the commercialization of the flying car.
While the flying vehicle is deemed as a kind of automobile, NEC said the car does not need to be able to travel on the ground.
NEC started a flying vehicle project team in spring 2018, using its Abiko plant as the development base.
The factory was chosen because the facility has a large space where a trial flight of the prototype could be conducted, according to Funako. It is also easily accessible for about 10 team members from the Tokyo headquarters and elsewhere.
In August, the team succeeded in sending the prototype machine into the air in a cage for safety reasons measuring 10 meters tall, 20 meters long and 20 meters wide at the plant site.
The vehicle, which is 3.9 meters in length, 3.7 meters in width and 1.3 meters in height, weighs 150 kilograms. Its monocoque frame-less body is made of carbon, and the motor’s output is 30 kilowatts.
NEC said it had difficulties in reducing the prototype’s weight, such as developing a 7-kg motor by itself as an existing one weighs at least 30 kg. The operation control software for unmanned flights and body location identification was also newly created for the machine, according to NEC representatives.
Seeing the prototype being able to float in the air, NEC is now moving to carry out a test flight at the work site. Based on data collected from the machine’s operations, NEC will work with other parties to allow its vehicle to carry goods.
The council aims to make an airborne goods transportation car commercially available within several years.
Masashi Zaikokuji, head of the plant’s general affairs department, who is in charge of engineering conditions for the flying car development project, said he is happy that technologies for new social infrastructure will be nurtured in Abiko.
“I hope the program will come to great fruition,” said Zaikokuji.
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