TOKYO -- Japan is making a push to develop flying cars, enlisting companies including Uber Technologies and Airbus in a government-led group to bring airborne vehicles to the country in the next decade, according to people familiar with the matter.
The group will initially comprise about 20 companies, including Boeing, NEC, a Toyota-backed startup called Cartivator, ANA Holdings, Japan Airlines, and Yamato Holdings.
Delegates will gather Aug. 29 for the first of their monthly meetings, the people said, asking not to be identified citing rules. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Transport Ministry plan to draft a road map this year, they said.
An Uber spokeswoman confirmed the company’s participation in the group, but declined to comment further. Representatives for Airbus, Boeing, ANA, JAL, NEC, Yamato and Cartivator declined to comment, as did those for the trade and transport ministries.
Flying cars that can zoom over congested roads are closer to reality than many people think. Startups around the world are pursuing small aircraft, which were until recently only in the realm of science fiction. With Japanese companies already trailing their global peers in electric vehicles and self-driving cars, the government is showing urgency on the aircraft technology, stepping in to facilitate legislation and infrastructure to help gain leadership.
Many have already had a head start in the race.
Uber will invest 20 million euros ($23 million) over the next five years to develop flying car services in a new facility in Paris. It has set a goal of starting commercial operations of its air-taxi business by 2023. Kitty Hawk, the Mountain View, California-based startup founded and backed by Google’s Larry Page, in June offered a glimpse of an aircraft prototype: a single-person recreational vehicle.
Other global companies envisioning this new form of transportation include Volkswagen Group's Audi, Daimler and Chinese carmaker Geely Automobile Holdings. Japanese automakers have not yet announced their plans to develop flying cars.
Japan’s Economy Minister Hiroshige Seko told reporters this month that flying cars could ease urban traffic snarls, help transportation in remote islands or mountainous areas at times of disasters, and can be used in the tourism industry.
The technology, just like aviation, would need to win approvals from several regulators that can take many years. That would also happen only when safety standards are set by agencies, without which commuters won’t embrace the flying craft.
Japan wants to take a lead in writing the rules for this nascent industry, as policy makers think the current aviation regulations are mostly set by Europe and the U.S., one of the people said.