Hoverbikes and flying cars: The future is on its way in Japan and China

Xpeng, the Chinese electric vehicle maker, wants to release it's flying car to the public by 2024.
Xpeng, the Chinese electric vehicle maker, wants to release it's flying car to the public by 2024. Photo credit: Supplied

After being a staple of science fiction for decades, hoverbikes and flying cars are finally heading our way.

A Japanese startup backed by football star Keisuke Honda hopes to persuade wealthy consumers to swap their supercar for a 77.7 million yen (NZ$950,000) hoverbike which went on sale this week.

The 'XTurismo Limited Edition' from Tokyo-based drone startup ALI Technologies is equipped with a conventional engine and four battery-powered motors and promises to fly for 40 minutes at up to 100 kph (62 mph).

"Until now the choice has been to move on the ground or at scale in the sky. We hope to offer a new method of movement," Chief Executive Daisuke Katano told Reuters.

The black and red hoverbike consists of a motorcycle-like body on top of propellers. The machine rests on landing skids when stationary.

The startup, whose backers include industrial heavyweights Mitsubishi and Kyocera, demonstrated the bike with a short flight a few metres off the ground at a race track near Mount Fuji.

Katano said that in the near term its uses will be limited to such sites - and will not be allowed to fly over Japan's packed roads. But the bike could be used by rescue teams to reach difficult to access locations, he said.

Strict regulations in Japan driven by safety concerns have hobbled the growth of sectors like ride-sharing. Pending rule changes could extend the bike's potential applications, Katano said.

Funding is flowing to startups from California-based Joby Aviation to Israel's AIR who promise to usher in an era of personal air transportation from jetpacks to flying taxis.

Commercial success for ALI Technologies, whose suppliers include engine maker Kawasaki, would help reinforce Japan's industrial edge amid a generational shift towards new technology such as autonomous and electric vehicles.

Meanwhile Chinese electric vehicle maker Xpeng has announced it's planning to mass produce a flying car by 2024, with a target price of under 1 million Chinese yuan (NZ $220,000) and is working with regulators to allow it to be sold directly to consumers.

The X2 will perform intelligent autonomous flight-route planning based on the destination, taking into account buildings, weather conditions and no-fly or restricted areas.

The cockpit has enough room for two passengers and can cruise at a maximum speed of 130 kilometers per hour. It'll fly for 35 minutes at an altitude of less than a kilometre.

And, according to the company, it will be easy to fly the X2 car - it'll be a simple matter of pressing a single button to take off and land with the "highly intelligent flight control system and superior autonomous flying capability" taking charge of the flight itself.