Toyota has its eye on the sky as it backs ambitious flying car project

Toyota's flying car recently went on a test drive

Update: Toyota’s flying car project just got its first test flight over the weekend, and it proves that we’ve still got a long ways to go. 

Early flying car projects consisted of sticking a pair of wings on a regular car, flooring the gas, and hoping for the best, as evidenced by this ropey-looking effort cobbled together by a Russian fella a few years back.

Now, startups, carmakers, and aircraft manufacturers are pouring money into a multitude of ambitious projects aimed at creating a viable flying automobile that could one day utterly transform the way we move across town.

Following in the footsteps of the likes of Uber and Airbus, as well as lesser known outfits such as AeroMobil, Terrafugia, PAL-V, and SkyRunner, auto giant Toyota has just demonstrated that it, too, fancies the idea of a car you can fly to the office.

The Japanese company recently provided funding of 40 million yen (about $350,000) to Cartivator, a local group of enthusiastic volunteers — some of them Toyota employees — who’ve spent the last few years developing their flying vehicle.

“We’d already [approached] Toyota several times, so we were very happy that we finally made it,” Cartivator’s Ryutaro Mori told Digital Trends on Monday, adding that the car company’s cash will mainly go toward the purchase of parts and components for their three-wheel flying vehicle, dubbed the Skydrive.

The final version is expected to measure about 9.5 by 4.3 feet (2.9 by 1.3 meters) and carry one passenger at a time. Mori describes it as “the world’s smallest flying car that will help people take off and land anywhere,” with the 30-strong team planning to carry out the first manned test flight as early as next year.

The vertical take-off and landing vehicle, which uses drone technology to get off the ground, has a projected flight-speed maximum of 62 mph (100 kmh) and is likely to travel at about 10 meters above terra firma when it’s not tootling along a road.

Up to now, Cartivator has been relying mainly on crowdfunding efforts to drive its project forward, but Toyota’s interest is a major boost for the team as it seeks to commercialize a flying car within three years. The goal? Using it to light the Olympic flame at the opening of the Tokyo Games in 2020, a feat surely worthy of a gold medal if they manage to pull it off.

For the time being, however, that feat still looks rather far away. In a recent Associated Press video, we can see the progress the car, called the Sky Drive, has made. In a test flight on Saturday, an initial prototype propelled itself to about human eye level before crashing to the ground. And it wasn’t exactly a car — rather, it was a car-sized frame featuring plenty of batteries and sensors.

But not to worry — Toyota and Cartivator still have two years before their self-imposed deadline of getting an automobile to fly, so for now, we can all be content with baby steps.

Emerging Tech

Purdue’s robotic hummingbird is nearly as nimble as the real thing

A team of engineers in Purdue University’s Bio-Robotics Lab have developed an impressively agile flying robot, modeled after the hummingbird. Check it out in all its robotic hovering glory.
Emerging Tech

Lilium Jet takes flight in first test for all-electric, five-seater aircraft

German startup Lilium had a successful maiden flight for its Lilium Jet. The all-electric, five-seater aircraft, powered by 36 engines fitted under its wings, looks to travel up to 300 kilometers in just 60 minutes.
Emerging Tech

USC’s penny-sized robotic bee is the most sci-fi thing you’ll see all week

Engineers at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles have built a bee-inspired robot that weighs just 95 milligrams and is smaller than a penny. Check it out in action here.

Six advanced tech features that make off-road driving easy

It wasn’t too long ago that driving off-road required serious skills and a lot of equipment. Thanks to technology, any family crossover SUV can hit the trail today and have a good chance of coming back in one piece.

Aston Martin will revive James Bond’s DB5 at a price only Goldfinger can afford

Aston Martin will build 25 new versions of the DB5 from the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger, complete with gadgets. These "continuation cars" will cost millions of dollars, but won't be road legal.

Hyundai wants to make sure you’re seeing the outside world, not inhaling it

Hyundai is developing an intelligent air purification system for its cars that continuously monitors the quality of the air inside the cabin, and cleans it when it detects the presence of harmful particulates.

Car designers can predict your future desires. This is how they do it

Automakers employ small armies of designers, and they’re relentless about asking consumers what they want. So, how do you get from the voice of the customer to the designer’s pen, and why does it go wrong so often?

Nissan claims its upgraded ProPilot system enables hands-off highway driving

Nissan is launching a new version of its ProPilot Assist system that's much smarter than the current version. It can handle acceleration, braking, and steering on highways, while using a camera to ensure the driver doesn't fall asleep.
Product Review

Mercedes-Benz fires its first salvo in the luxury electrification war

The EQC is Mercedes-Benz's answer to the Tesla threat, bringing performance, tech features, and luxury to the growing electric SUV segment. We headed to Norway, the electric car capital of the world, to get a taste of it.

2020 GMC Sierra sees a bunch of updates, including adaptive cruise

GMC announced updates to its 2020 GMC Sierra pickup truck, including much-needed adaptive cruise control, a 3.0-liter turbo-diesel engine option, improved towing cameras, and expanded availability of the 10-speed automatic transmission.
Home Theater

Why you can’t buy Car Thing, Spotify’s first hardware device

Spotify created a voice-activated, in-car device that lets you listen to music and podcasts. But Car Thing, as it is known, is not for sale. Instead, it will be used to gather data from a limited set of customers.

Ford gears up to build rugged, capable hybrid trucks and SUVs

Ford is planning to put hybrid powertrains into big trucks and SUVs, and doesn't want to sacrifice things like towing capacity and off-road capability. A new hybrid system may help do that.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Insect drones and kinetic sculpture robots

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!

Semi-autonomous and always available: A peek into the near future of car rental

Soon we will see connected rental fleets with a dedicated lane at airports for self-driving cars, where drivers control the car to the airport, and then the empty car drives itself to the rental lot.