SkyDrive joins roundtable to commercialize ‘flying cars’ in Osaka, Japan

By Brian Garrett-Glaser | November 19, 2020

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 34 seconds.

Japanese eVTOL designer SkyDrive joined a newly-formed roundtable intent on commercializing passenger eVTOLs in the Osaka region, with service at the Osaka-Kansai World Expo 2025 a major objective for the group.

Skydrive piloted evtol demonstration
SkyDrive conducted a manned flight demonstration of its SD-03 eVTOL in August 2020. SkyDrive Photo

The roundtable, which held its inaugural meeting on Nov. 17, was established by the Public-Private Conference for Future Air Mobility, launched in 2018 by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), with member organizations including Uber Japan, Boeing Japan, Japan Airlines and Subaru. A roadmap released by the group in December 2018 aims to commence business services by 2023, beginning with the transportation of goods before moving people in rural areas and, lastly, in urban areas.

SkyDrive, born out of Toyota-backed startup Cartivator, announced ¥3.9 billion (approximately US$37 million) in Series B funding in August, shortly after showcasing a limited flight demonstration of its SD-03 piloted eVTOL concept. SkyDrive aims to certify the design, which fits four pairs of contra-rotating propellers into a compact four-meter (13-foot) square for use in dense urban areas, by 2023. More immediately, the company hopes to receive approval for flights outside of the Toyota Test Field, where ongoing flight testing and the summer demonstration have taken place, by the end of the year.

“Osaka, the bay area in particular, is suitable for the flying car business both geopolitically and as an economic hub,” said Hirofumi Yoshimura, governor of the Osaka prefecture, at the roundtable’s inaugural ceremony. “The spirit of Yatteminahare — Just do it — is valued in Osaka. Just get on with it.”

With investment from numerous Japanese organizations including Obayashi Corporation, NEC Corporation, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group and the Development Bank of Japan, SkyDrive intends to continue developing its technology for applications in both cargo and passenger mobility. In May, the company launched sales of its initial cargo drone model, capable of moving a 30-kilogram (66-pound) payload at 40 kilometers per hour (25 miles per hour) for a 15-minute flight, intended for use in Japan’s more mountainous regions.

SkyDrive cargo drone
SkyDrive’s cargo drone, developed to move goods in mountainous regions of Japan, became available for purchase in May 2020. SkyDrive Photo

“In the future, we will also develop products that can carry more than 100 kg depending on the need of our customers,” Skydrive’s website states.

Earlier this year, Bell — a helicopter manufacturer with longstanding ties to Japanese partners — announced it will work with Japan Airlines and Sumitomo Corporation to explore the development of an urban air mobility system in Japan and the broader Asia-Pacific region. Japan Airlines announced in September a similar exploratory partnership with Volocopter, which it joined as an investor during the German air taxi developer’s Series C fundraise in February.

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