NEC’s passenger drone takes to the skies in somewhat cautious test flight

Fancy commuting to work in your own personal flying machine? Japanese tech firm NEC believes the idea is not as far-fetched as it might sound, and has been developing a passenger drone with such an aim in mind.

In a bold bid to reach its goal, NEC has partnered with Cartivator, a Japanese tech startup backed by Toyota, among others.

This week NEC offered a demonstration of the drone-like vehicle, which can best be described as an oversized quadcopter with enough space for one or two people.

The trial flight took place in the city of Abiko, just outside Tokyo. A video posted on YouTube shows a team of engineers wearing hard hats looking on as the battery-powered aircraft rises slowly off the ground, reaching an altitude of about 10 feet.

The pilotless flight took place inside a cage-like structure, as any unfortunate “flyaway” event with a machine this size would be sure to scare the bejeezus out of anyone who saw it hurtling by. It was also tethered to the ground, just to be sure.

The passenger drone, which weighs around 150 kg, stayed airborne for about 40 seconds, hovering in the same position for most of that time. It all seemed to go smoothly, which teases the possibility of a piloted flight before too long.

The creators of the aircraft believe its technology could one day help to reduce traffic congestion in the nation’s busiest cities.

“Japan is a densely populated country and that means flying cars could greatly alleviate the burden on road traffic,” Kouji Okada, one of those involved in the project, told Bloomberg. “We are positioning ourselves as an enabler for air mobility, providing location data and building communications infrastructure for flying cars.”

Following further development, Cartivator hopes to be in a position to mass-produce the passenger drone in 2026, though regulators will, of course, have the final say about where and when it can fly.

NEC and Cartivator aren’t the only ones hoping to revolutionize the way we move around our towns and cities, with a slew of other operators around the world developing battery-powered vertical takeoff and landing aircraft of various shapes and sizes.