No revolutionary innovation in recent years. Can Japanese science and technology turn over by flying cars?

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 No revolutionary innovation in recent years. Can Japanese science and technology turn over by flying cars?


Netease Technologies News Jan. 24, according to Bloomberg News, in the mobile Internet era, Japans technology seems to have settled in the trend, a group of Japanese plan to bet on flying cars, hoping to take the lead in promoting. Will this be a good chance to turn over?

The following are the translations:

Japan often seems to be caught up in the lost yesterday. Flipped mobile phones are still common in this country, which is known as the typical phenomenon of Galapagos Syndrome. Galapagos Islands Syndrome refers to the countrys tendency to use only island-specific technologies. Another anachronistic Yahoo is still popular in Japan. Tokyo in the 1980s may have inspired the futuristic urban landscape of Blade Runner, with flying cars, but fax machines, which were at the forefront of the films release, are still ubiquitous today.

For decades, Japans Ministry of Economy and Industry has been committed to ensuring that Japan does not lag behind the trend of scientific and technological development. The Ministry of Economy, Industry and Industry is a powerful institution, where officials led Japans post-war economic miracle, a boom that brought transistor radios, Walkman and Prius to the world, but since then there has been little revolutionary innovation. Nowadays, none of the automobile manufacturers supported by the Ministry of Economy and Industry is at the forefront of driverless driving. To a large extent, Japans declining technology companies can no longer claim to have the lofty status of smartphones or the Internet age.

Not long ago, Fumiaki Ebihara, 33, began worrying at his desk in Japans Ministry of Economy and Industry, fearing that Japan might fall into another obsolete practice: to continue to adhere to ground travel. He bets that the future of flying cars is coming, and Japan can realize this vision first. Since then, Fujihara has placed itself at the centre of perhaps the most comprehensive government effort in the world to understand and encourage the development of flying cars as a way to improve daily traffic. Fujihara civilization believes that flying cars are ultimately electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles that can drive themselves to a large extent or completely.

So far, this effort has formulated a national road map for the development of flying vehicles for Japanese aviation industry leaders, and established relevant government agencies to define and promote regulations. Fujihara believes that if everything goes well, by the end of the 1920s, Tokyos sky will be covered by air taxis and freight trucks. Compared with other countries, Japan has many advantages in developing flying cars, he said in an interview last November.

Fujiharas small stature, unkempt hair, fashionable round glasses and the habit of not wearing a tie in public are rare among Japanese officials. Behind him was a framed poster showing a Boeing plane flying over a Japanese temple with the slogan Madewith Japan. This reminds us that Japan is an important supplier of parts and components for aircraft assembled elsewhere, although few of its own aircraft are manufactured.

Fujihara continued: Mass production, materials science, battery technology, system integration and so on, we have all the elements needed to develop flying cars. This is an excellent opportunity for us.

Picture: When Fujihara persuaded his boss to accept flying cars, he was still a middle-level employee of Japans Ministry of Economy, Industry and Industry.

Most of the members of Japans passionate small flying car community, young English-speaking people, disdain the rigid traditional idea that Japan has been unable to seize the latest opportunities and believe that Japan has the opportunity to become a global leader. The government of Shinzo Abe, Japans prime minister, is eager to revive the economy and hopes to use the opportunity of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to show the outside world a new national image.

But Japans recent record of providing a friendly environment for subversive ideas is terrible, and even with political will, it has lost decades of economic growth opportunities.

Decades after Japan dominated the automotive market, China and the United States began to expand the automotive market. The emerging companies led by Tesla have taken the lead in the biggest change (electrification) in the global automotive industry. Local and national regulations in Japan strictly restrict Airbnb. Due to the strong opposition of taxi companies, the application of online booking has never appeared. But Japans flying car advocates believe that in less than a decade, anyone in Osaka or Sapporo can call Uber on a smartphone. However, it is still difficult to call a car even on the ground.

When Fujihara began to conceive the flying car plan in 2017, he was a little-known middle-level employee of Japans Ministry of Economy and Industry, responsible for contacting aircraft manufacturers. During a discussion, what he called a large airline briefed him on the companys plans to develop air taxis and wanted to know about Japanese policy. In this regard, Fujihara civilization feels a little confused. After all, to a large extent, Japan has no similar policy.

To be fair, only a relatively small number of government agencies around the world have begun to address the issue of how to regulate flying cars. Dubai, Singapore and New Zealand also expressed a similar willingness to take the lead. New Zealand has established a partnership with Kitty Hawk, a start-up owned by Larry Page, co-founder of Google. Big powers with more complex airspace are also taking steps.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) told participants at Ubers Flying Vehicle Summit in May last year that they might need to lower their expectations of regulators and not green light flying vehicles in the near future. The agency has yet to finalize rules that allow UAV operators to fly at night or above crowds. Meanwhile, in Britain, the relatively loose rules on UAVs have not translated into a passion for rapid take-off of UAVs.

Figure: The industrial policy formulated by the Tokyo headquarters of Japans Ministry of Economy and Industry helped ignite Japans post-war economic miracle.

Even in Japans economic and industrial provinces, officials are conservative, and the flying car program is hard to sell for Fujihara civilization. Referring to his bosss attitude towards his new ideas, Fujihara said: At first, they didnt believe it was important, but they finally saw the logical significance of it.

Japan may have a greater incentive to act quickly. The country is often hit by earthquakes and typhoons, making it difficult or impossible to commute by road. Its geographical location is also extreme, with more than 400 inhabited islands and hundreds of inaccessible mountain villages. In congested cities, it is equally difficult to drive on four lanes: it takes two hours from downtown Tokyo to Narita International Airport.

The Japanese government announced its flying car project in August last year. International partners include Boeing and Airbus. Domestic partners include Yamato Holdings, Japans largest logistics company, and Subaru, the domestic automobile manufacturer, which not only produces wagons, but also assembles Apache attack helicopters. Despite its difficulties in Japan, Uber has joined the ranks. The Japanese government hopes the American company will choose Tokyo as the test bed for its UberAir flying car project. The idea is for these business partners to work with official agencies to develop a comprehensive plan to deploy and supervise flying cars across Japan, which will begin testing as early as this year.

Photo: At last years Tokyo Expo, UberAir showed off the model of the companys electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.

However, it is rather embarrassing that few Japanese participants are making or planning to build flying cars in the effort to push Japan to the forefront of the emerging flying car industry. Many related innovations will come from foreign companies, such as Airbus, Uber and Bell Helicopter, which are developing vertical takeoff and landing vehicles suitable for urban environments. Most Japanese local competitors aim to provide smaller components for the flying car ecosystem, such as batteries, control software or air traffic services.

However, at least one prototype Japanese-made flying car has recently been allowed to leave a warehouse near Nagoya, Japans traditional aerospace capital. This is a rough version of the two-seater aircraft, 3.5 meters long and slightly higher than 1 meter in height. The four rotors that can take off vertically are mounted on the legs and slightly extend downward from the fuselage, just like buoys. For the team of artivator engineers headquartered in Tokyo and Nagoya, obtaining outdoor flight permits from the Civil Aviation Bureau is a difficult process.

Picture: Cartivator is developing a rendering map of a flying car, which is one of Japans only indigenous attempts.

Tsubasa Nakamura, co-founder of a railway station cafe in the western suburbs of Tokyo, said in an interview in the evening: The regulation here is strict and conservative, and Japan has little experience in manufacturing the entire aircraft. Its not easy to develop flying cars here.

Mr. Nakamura started Cartivator in 2012 as an engineer at a large Japanese automotive company, and he grew up fascinated by the concept of flying cars. In his daily work, he tried to develop the concept, but came to the conclusion that it was impossible under the restriction of risk-averse industrial giants. For this reason, Punfu Nakamura left his post last year and devoted himself wholeheartedly to his passionate project.

Photo: Bong Fu Nakamura, founder of Cartivator

Cartivator is not a startup. Instead, it is a volunteer organization with more than 100 members who contribute 20 hours a week in their spare time and receive a small amount of financial support from companies like Toyota Motor, Panasonic and NEC. In Japan, even for hardware companies, its very difficult to raise the scale of venture capital you need, let alone in the capital-intensive aircraft sector, Nakamura said. Engineers tend to stay in big companies, so the volunteer model is a simpler way to do it.

But flying cars eventually need to become independent businesses, so Nakamura and its co-founder, Tomohiro Fukuzawa, created a derivative called Skydrive and raised about $3 million from venture capital firms. Nakamura said it was only a fraction of the money he needed to achieve his medium-term goal of lighting the Olympic torch with a flying car at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

Picture: Tsubasa Nakamura (third left) watches the Cartivator test flight

However, it is unfair to say that Japans major companies are not involved in the development of flying cars. Among them, Dahe Logistics Company, which has a hundred-year history, is more enthusiastic. In 2018, the company began working with Textrons Bell, which makes aircraft including the U.S. V-22 Osprey. Both sides hope to launch future helicopters for delivery in urban areas.

Shinji Makiura, a Dahe logistics executive, said: Dahe Logistics is definitely the leader in this field. If others do that, we will be subverted. This urgency is, to some extent, the product of a persistent shortage of labour. Due to the low birth rate and the shrinking population, all Japanese enterprises are facing the problem of labor shortage. We have to learn to reduce the number of people, Zhenshimura added.

Daiwa Logistics delivers about 1.8 billion packages a year. The company plans to launch its first test flight of a flying car this year and put it into service in the mid-1920s. The lead researcher behind the study was 28-year-old YuIto, who was still working as a management trainee when Zhenshimura found a graduation thesis on the technical feasibility of flying cars on his desk. Ito soon had his own team, budget, and enthusiastic partners from Bell. Under the traditional Japanese hierarchy, Bells rise may take decades.

Ito said: Scheduling, network management, cost control and many other basic issues are familiar to us. The challenge is that we have never built an airplane. But even at the Japanese company, which is most interested in flying, the business depends heavily on others. In addition to developing an economic model for flying trucks, Daiwa Logisticss main role in collaboration with Bell is to develop modular, air-mobile cargo holds. Perhaps it also has the ability to glide independently on the ground to complete the final delivery. Real airplanes are still left to Americans to develop.

Picture: Cartivators Punfu Nakamura and Fukuzawa Zhihong (left) set up a spin-off company called Skydrive, which raised about $3 million.

For cars to take off in Japan, they must overcome a force as important as gravity, the other branches of the national bureaucracy. Many agencies outside Japans Ministry of Economy, Industry and Industry will have to sign a viable large-scale air transport plan, the most important of which may be the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism. In addition to proving the safety of the proposed new vehicle, it will also be responsible for designing and managing a new system that is much more complex than the control systems currently used in the busiest airspace.

To find authority officials who know more about future flights, you can go to a stuffy little office where dozens of men in short-sleeved white shirts tap on laptops and stop to receive faxes from time to time. Masafumi Ohi, deputy director of Airworthiness Division, said: We cannot compromise on the safety of flying vehicles, whether aircraft, passengers or people around them. This is not to say that we are unwilling to challenge tradition, but that we cannot sacrifice security for convenience, especially in the city centre.

Japans security culture is perhaps the most stringent and uncompromising in the world. Workers wearing white gloves stand upright at the construction site, keeping a close eye on the situation to avoid pedestrians passing by or tripping their toes. Since the crash of a 747 passenger plane on Japan Airlines in 1985, no fatal accident has occurred on JAL. In about 50 years of operation, Shinkansen bullet train network has never experienced serious collision or derailment accidents. But it seems inevitable that with the adoption of flying cars, some cars will crash, which may be fatal. These scenarios will be a serious test for risk-averse Japanese officials and may prompt them to abandon their passion for quick action.

The practical obstacles go beyond that. Japan seems to be ripe to develop flying cars, partly because of its large and densely populated cities. Apart from building a large number of roof garages, it is not clear where thousands of new air vehicles will stop in metropolises like Tokyo or Osaka. In these cities, almost no large area of space will be idle. For decades, the Japanese government has been trying to stimulate the sleeping economy through large-scale construction projects. These cities may have the best existing infrastructure in the world. The complexity of railway and highway networks makes it difficult for foreigners to understand.

Flying cars are definitely cool, but they may not be so cool when competing with Shinkansen. Shinkansen is a separately planned maglev train system with speeds approaching 500 kilometers per hour. In Tokyo, the railway and subway systems are so complex that no map can cover all routes.

Figure: Kotaro Chiba manages the UAV fund and invests in Skydrive and other flight-related start-ups.

Kotaro Chiba is probably the most enthusiastic flying car believer in Japan and the world. However, until three years ago, the investor from Tokyo was investing in more gas-intensive industries such as tourism and mobile games. Later, someone bought him a drone as a gift, and Taro Chiba became fascinated with flying. He now has more than 30 UAVs and his own Piper Cherokee at Nagoya Airport.

Chiba Taros deepest understanding of aircraft is in his daily work. Taro Chiba is now the owner of the Drone Fund, a $15 million fund that invests exclusively in autonomous aircraft, especially in flying cars. The companys investments include Skydrive, a startup spun off from Cartivator, Clues UAV as a Service business, and several companies that develop software or robots for advanced aircraft.

The UAV fund is managed by an anonymous agency near the Tokyo Tower and shares office space with Aerial Lab Industries, a start-up invested by Taro Chiba. The centre of the companys office is a full-size, matte, black hovercraft model, a motorcycle that aims to suspend several feet above the road with the help of four sets of rotating turbines, a project being developed by Aerial Lab Industries.

Taro Chiba, 44, has an odd personality, but his UAV fund has attracted funds from many Japanese corporate institutions, including Mizuho Bank, Daiwa Securities and Dentsus advertising empire. Chiba is now trying to raise about $50 million for the second fund, enough to support the full start of some of his projects.

Overall, Taro Chibas goal is to invest in a number of companies that can work together to build a Japanese flying car ecosystem. Initially, UAVs could only deliver goods, he said. He sat on a stuffed sofa with elaborate flight simulators with three monitors on the table next to him. If we succeed, we will first attract celebrities, executives and people whose time is money, Chiba said. Then there is the mass market. If we really achieve our goal, the price will be cheaper than a taxi.

Picture: The future blueprint of Japanese flying car with animation style is drawn on the asphalt platform of UAV Fund.

Taro Chiba believes that Japan is capable of achieving this goal. If you only look at UAV manufacturing, maybe China is the strongest, he said. If you only look at software, maybe America is number one. But if you integrate these factors in an absolutely safe way, thats Japans strength. Flying cars represent the ultimate system integration challenge, a mixture of engineering, regulation and network management, and Japan has unique advantages.

There are also pop culture factors. We have many childhood visions of the future, Chiba said. The vision of the UAV Foundation is illustrated by many cartoon-style illustrations, such as the blind-eyed female students summoning air taxi smartphones through smartphones, watching brothers and sisters ride on flying school buses, and watching flying trucks load packages. In another illustration, the protagonist drives a hovercraft brand funded by the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Fund and speeds down the streets of Tokyo a few feet above the ground of the sidewalk.

When asked why someone would buy such a delicate device instead of a traditional motorcycle, Chiba immediately answered, Because its so cool! (Xiao Xiao)

Source: Responsible Editor of Netease Science and Technology Report: Wang Fengzhi_NT2541