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.

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