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'Flying Car' Gets off Ground in Successful Manned Test Flight

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The decades-old dream of zipping around in the sky as simply as driving on highways is one step closer to becoming reality.

Japan’s SkyDrive Inc., among the myriads of “flying car” projects around the world, has carried out a successful test flight with one person aboard.

In a video shown to reporters on Friday, a contraption that looked like a slick motorcycle with propellers lifted several feet off the ground and hovered for four minutes.

Tomohiro Fukuzawa, who heads the SkyDrive effort, said he hopes the “flying car” can be made into a real product by 2023.

“Of the world’s more than 100 flying car projects, only a handful has succeeded with a person on board,” he told The Associated Press. “I hope many people will want to ride it and feel safe.”

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The machine so far can fly for just five to 10 minutes.

Unlike airplanes and helicopters, eVTOL — “electric vertical takeoff and landing” — vehicles offer quick point-to-point personal travel, at least in principle.

They could do away with the hassle of airports and traffic jams and the cost of hiring pilots.

Battery sizes, air traffic control and other infrastructure issues are among the many potential challenges to commercializing them.

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“Many things have to happen,” according to Sanjiv Singh, professor at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University and co-founder of Near Earth Autonomy, near Pittsburgh, which is also working on an eVTOL aircraft.

“If they cost $10 million, no one is going to buy them. If they fly for 5 minutes, no one is going to buy them. If they fall out of the sky every so often, no one is going to buy them,” Singh said in a telephone interview.

The SkyDrive project began as a volunteer project in 2012, with funding by top Japanese companies including automaker Toyota Motor Corp., electronics company Panasonic Corp. and video game developer Bandai Namco.

A demonstration flight three years ago went poorly. But the “flying car” has improved, and the project recently received another round of funding totaling 3.9 billion yen ($37 million), including from the Development Bank of Japan.

Lilium of Germany, Joby Aviation in California and Wisk, a joint venture between Boeing Co. and Kitty Hawk Corp., are also working on eVTOL projects.

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Sebastian Thrun, chief executive of Kitty Hawk, said it took time for airplanes, cell phones and self-driving cars to win acceptance.

“But the time between technology and social adoption might be more compressed for eVTOL vehicles,” he said.

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