TOKYO -- Japan's Yamato Holdings and Bell Helicopter Textron of the U.S. have agreed to jointly develop an unmanned flying "truck" as the logistics industry turns to technology to overcome a shortage of workers.
Bell will build the body while Yamato will create the container for cargo. The craft will ascend vertically to a designated height and then travel horizontally, carrying up to 450 kg at roughly 160 kph.
Yamato envisions the flying truck being used for medium-to-long-distance cargo shipments, rather than small home deliveries. The cargo container will be designed so that it can be smoothly loaded onto trucks and other vehicles. The companies will test-fly a roughly 1.5-meter-long prototype carrying about 30 kg by August 2019.
The short-handed logistics industry in Japan is raising prices for home deliveries and shifting shipments from trucks to boats or rail. Yamato is hurrying to develop next-generation delivery methods that can alleviate obstacles such as aging drivers, issues that are expected to grow worse down the road.
Commercializing the technology will require measures to ensure safety, reduce noise and prevent accidents like collisions. Japan's economy and transportation ministries began to debate rules for flying cars at a public-private panel in August that touched on logistics uses. A road map will be compiled as early as this year, with an eye toward commercialization by the middle of the next decade.
Companies like U.S. ride-hailing company Uber Technologies and European airplane maker Airbus are also competing to develop flying cars.