Japan is making a push to develop flying cars, enlisting companies including Uber Technologies Inc. and Boeing Co. in a government-led group to bring airborne vehicles to the country in the next decade.
The group initially will consist of 21 businesses and organizations, including Airbus SE, NEC Corp., a Toyota Motor Corp.-backed startup called Cartivator, ANA Holdings Inc., Japan Airlines Co., and Yamato Holdings Co., according to a statement Aug. 24 from the trade ministry in Tokyo. Delegates will gather Aug. 29 to help chart a road map this year, it said.
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“The Japanese government will provide appropriate support to help realize the concept of flying cars, such as creation of acceptable rules,” the ministry said.
Flying cars that can zoom over congested roads are closer to reality than many people think. Startups around the world are pursuing small aircraft, which until recently were only in the realm of science fiction. With Japanese companies already trailing their global peers in electric vehicles and self-driving cars, the government is showing urgency on the aircraft technology, stepping in to facilitate legislation and infrastructure to help gain leadership.
The technology, just like aviation, would need to win approvals from several regulators that can take many years. That also would happen only when safety standards are set by agencies, without which commuters won’t embrace the flying craft.
“It’s necessary for the government to take a lead and coordinate on setting safety standards,” said Yasuo Hashimoto, a researcher at Tokyo-based Japan Aviation Management Research. “They are trying to set a tone for the industry ahead of other countries.”
Japan’s Economy Minister Hiroshige Seko told reporters this month that flying cars could ease urban traffic snarls, help transportation in remote islands or mountainous areas at times of disasters, and can be used in the tourism industry.
Many have had a head start in the race. Uber, which will invest 20 million euros ($23 million) over the next five years to develop flying car services in a new facility in Paris, has set a goal of starting commercial operations of its air-taxi business by 2023. Kitty Hawk, the Mountain View, Calif.-based startup founded and backed by Google’s Larry Page, in June offered a glimpse of an aircraft prototype: a single-person recreational vehicle.
Other global companies envisioning this form of transportation include Volkswagen AG, Daimler AG and Chinese carmaker Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. Japanese carmakers have not yet announced their plans to develop flying cars.
— With assistance by Nao Sano, Yuki Furukawa, Katsuyo Kuwako, and Yuji Nakamura