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Start-up of the Week: Meet SkyDrive, pioneering Japan’s ‘Smart Urban Mobility’ initiatives

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SkyDrive also has got eVTOL aircraft orders from United States-based Austin Aviation, apart from securing another pre-order for 100 aircraft with Vietnam-based venture Pacific Group

Japanese eVTOL aircraft developer SkyDrive announced in July 2023 about the company securing a pre-order of 100 of its vehicles, as the venture signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Vietnamese firm CT UAV.

SkyDrive also has got eVTOL aircraft orders from United States-based Austin Aviation, apart from securing another pre-order for 100 aircraft with Vietnam-based venture Pacific Group.

Talking about the SkyDrive and CT UAV deal, the MoU will evaluate commercial eVTOL considerations such as vertiports, routes and network planning, infrastructure requirements, and ecosystems with stakeholders, in order to lessen Vietnam’s traffic woes.

SkyDrive & Smart Urban Mobility

SkyDrive came into existence in July 2018 after the venture tested flying car concepts and prototypes from 2014. Its flagship eVTOL aircraft, named SkyDrive SD-05, is a three-seater vehicle, which will travel approximately 15 km.

SkyDrive, formed in 2012 by a voluntary group called ‘Cartivator’, is now backed by the Toyota Group.

This company’s goal is simple, to provide 21st-century smart city planners with a compact, lightweight, and completely emission-free transportation option.

“Imagine driving through the sky in a flying car that is as much a part of daily life as today’s automobiles. Lightweight eVTOL aircraft can land at airports located almost anywhere in town. At your request, an autonomous flying car will pick you up and fly you straight to your destination in comfort as you enjoy the ride. Say goodbye to traffic jams, detours caused by roadwork, and train or bus transfers. SkyDrive will make seamless mobility a reality,” the company explained its SkyDrive SD-05 in the following words.

Zero emission, minimal space requirements, low infrastructure costs, cutting down traffic congestion through its autonomous flying cars, and last but not least, a dedicated auto drive software and mobile app are the features which make SkyDrive an exciting prospect for 21st-century urban planners.

The battery electric-powered vehicle is powered by 12 units of motors and rotors, with the usage of composite and aluminium alloy keeping the product a lightweight one. The maximum take-off weight is 3,100 lbs, while the maximum cruising speed is 100 km/h.

In March 2022, SkyDrive reached an agreement with the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) to base the type certification for the company’s flying car on the JCAB Airworthiness Inspection Manual.

For the SkyDrive SD-05, MLIT (Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism) accepted the application for type certification in October 2021. SkyDrive’s air taxi service will be launched with this model in 2025.

MLIT will issue a type certificate to validate the design, structure, strength, and performance of SkyDrive’s products. So the venture will have to complete an array of studies and tests in the coming days. The company has set a 2025 deadline for getting the type of certificate, which will help it to start commercial operations around 2030.

The certification process will be on par with the eVTOL standards set up by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

Talking about SkyDrive’s growth journey, in 2018 December, the Japan-based start-up obtained indoor flight test permission for its SD-01 model. Within six months, it secured a strategic partnership with Toyota City to develop flying cars.

In December 2019, a manned prototype of SkyDrive’s SD-02 performed its flight tests. The same month saw the venture starting its pre-order sales of cargo drones. In August 2020, SD-03 manned prototype performed its maiden public demonstration flight. A year later, it got another strategic partnership from Osaka urban authorities for the practical application of flying cars.

In 2021, SkyDrive’s application for the type certification of its flying car got accepted by the MLIT. In 2025, the venture will roll out its commercial aircraft during the ‘Expo 2025 Osaka.’ The company has also announced its next-generation eVTOL named SD-XX.

Presenting You SkyLift

“SkyLift is uniquely suited for sites where costs or terrain make it impractical or difficult for a helicopter or crane to operate. It also makes working in mountainous and other inaccessible areas more efficient and less dangerous for workers,” the venture stated.

The SkyLift cargo drone is known for providing safe and automated aerial transport of heavy materials to virtually any location, including remote ones. SkyLift carries a cargo of up to 30 kg on each flight (up to 700 kg on a daily basis). SkyLift delivers its payload by hovering and lowering the cargo to the ground with a powerful 30-meter hoist mechanism.

SkyLift succeeded in transporting construction materials to a bridge construction site in the densely inhabited Yokohama City, apart from participating in Kisarazu City’s vermin control project, where the transportation of Vermin traps and other similar equipment was performed with the help of the venture’s artificial intelligence-powered drones. Be it the transportation of medical supplies in Toyota City or sending farm products to a Hokkaido market, SkyLift has proved itself time and time again.

The Road Ahead

SkyDrive has been selected to participate in Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) “Smart Mobility Expo” project. So, the “Future Society Showcase Project Exhibitions” at “Expo 2025 Osaka” will be the make or break for the venture.

To accelerate the movement towards the social implementation of AAM in Osaka, SkyDrive has also been drafted as a member of the Roundtable established by the Osaka Prefectural Government. SkyDrive has been working with the stakeholders to raise awareness about the AAM, apart from actively working with the Osaka administration to increase the project’s AAM project’s recognition.

When the Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition invited the applications for the AAM operators to be featured in the “Smart Mobility Expo”, SkyDrive applied and got selected in February 2023. The association will discuss and decide upon matters like AAM routes, flight frequency, number of aircraft in operation, and flight fare.

SkyDrive has also stitched up strategic ties with Thales and Suzuki to bring latters’ technical expertise to its eVTOL ecosystem.

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