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Toyota-backed flying car zooms toward commercial reality

Volunteer team Cartivator launches company and secures $2.6m injection

Work proceeds on a prototype flying car at Skydrive, the company set up by volunteer auto engineering group Cartivator.

TOKYO -- A group of volunteer engineers supported by Toyota Motor is making strides toward making cars fly, incorporating as a separate company and securing a 300 million yen ($2.66 million) investment as it seeks to outrun international competitors.

The investment in Skydrive, set up this summer by the engineer group Cartivator, comes from the roughly 5 billion yen sequel to a fund specializing in drone technology first set up in 2017 by investor Kotaro Chiba. The second fund's backers include Mizuho Financial Group unit Mizuho Bank and mobile provider KDDI.

Though Skydrive is "still rough around the edges, if it gathers personnel and funds, it could have a chance at realizing" the flying-car project, said Chiba, a former vice president of game developer Colopl.

By next spring, Skydrive aims to secure more than 1 billion yen in venture capital investments, as well as research-outsourcing fees and other forms of support from major backers.

Cartivator got its start in 2012 as a group of engineers from Toyota and elsewhere working in their spare time. Last year, it received about 40 million yen in support from Toyota and its group companies, as well as separate backing from tech players like NEC and Fujitsu. It had raised a total of 200 million yen from about 30 companies before the latest injection.

The group is working on technologies like managing multiple propellers to stabilize a vehicle. Advances in development prompted the move to set up a formal company and hire staff.

Skydrive has taken on former Toyota Executive Vice President Mitsuhisa Kato as an adviser. Shintaro Takahashi, a professor at Tokyo's Keio University who is versed in drone-related law, has come aboard as an outside director. Toyota alumni Tomohiro Fukuzawa serves as the company's representative director.

Despite formidable hurdles of safety and cost, the global competition to develop flying cars is picking up. Major international names, including American ride-hailing giant Uber Technologies and European aircraft maker Airbus, are working on the vehicles, which could help reduce traffic and aid emergency response to disasters. In Europe and the U.S., with plenty of startups working on the technology and many venture capitalists providing support, some have begun to view 2020 as a rough target for making the vehicles long predicted in science fiction a reality.

Japan is seeking to unite the public and private sectors in an effort to realize the technology. In August, a council was set up to revolutionize aerial transportation where the economic and transport ministries met with private businesses. The participants discussed what kind of technologies, infrastructure and systems would need to be in place to achieve a flying-car reality, aiming to reflect their ideas in a road map set to be drawn up by year's end.

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