Business

It's a car. It's a plane. No, it's NEC's personal quadcopter

Government hopes such aircraft will solve traffic problems

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Is it a car? Is it a plane?

NEC Corp. unveiled a prototype “flying car” quadcopter Monday after months of work on the design. The vehicle roared into the air for an unmanned hover test in the presence of journalists.

The aircraft resembles a drone used by hobbyists the world over. But that is where the similarity ends, as NEC’s four-rotor model is significantly heavier and requires industrial-strength technologies.

With a belief that such aerial vehicles will be a popular form of transportation, NEC aims to develop management systems for autonomous flying cars.

NEC will draw on its expertise in areas such as autonomous control, airport systems and data networks in developing this product and others like it, said Koji Okada, director of NEC’s national security solution department, adding the firm hopes to produce a management system for logistics use in 2023.

To put these technologies together and turn them into the management systems for flying cars, the firm needs flight data, he said. This prototype will produce such data.

The model measures 3.9 meters by 1.3 meters, and weighs 148 kilograms. In the demonstration Monday, at NEC’s Abiko branch in Chiba Prefecture, the vehicle hovered about 3 meters off the ground for a minute.

The point of the experiment was to see how such a heavy aircraft maintains its trim in flight, Okada said. It behaves quite differently from a smaller, commercial drone, he added.

NEC has been running experiments for several months, but the test Monday marked the prototype’s public unveiling.

While it may be hard to imagine a future in which the air is filled with personal copters, the government is serious about using airspace to ease traffic in busy cities and to bring transport to depopulated rural areas. In December, it drafted a road map for the development of flying cars, described as electric aircraft capable of vertical landing and autonomous flight.

The plan aims to introduce flying cars for logistics use in 2023. Personal transport would follow in the mid-2020s for use in rural areas and in the 2030s for urban areas.

The road map acknowledges the role of the private sector, and the fact that companies are beginning tests this year.

The sector is growing increasingly crowded, with dozens of companies reportedly developing aerial vehicles, including Airbus SE, Boeing Co. and Uber Technologies Inc.

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