It was a bit surprising to see a company like NEC prominently featuring a car-size drone on its CEATEC 2019 booth, so we stopped by to check things up.
And no, NEC isn’t going to jump in the drone transportation market, at least, not by producing drones. This prototype is built to test a drone Air Traffic Control System developed by NEC.
This is one piece of a larger government-led effort to have passenger drone flights by the year 2030. Japan, like many other places, is looking at drone evolution with attention, seeing the potential benefits to move part of the transportation and delivery system to new urban aerial routes. Using the latest technologies in every aspect of life is part of Japan’s Society 5.0 vision.
To have an orderly launch and transition, systems and infrastructures must be built and tested now, and this NEC “Flying Car” will be a real-world test for large drones.
Smaller drones are now a well-known factor with concrete planning and regulations. We don’t yet know what issues may arise from transporting people in large drones.
In western countries, we know NEC for its consumer and enterprise electronics. However, the company has a history of building infrastructure systems in Japan and other places in Asia, so this is not a new venture, but the extension of a long history in traffic control systems.
There are arguably easier ways to get this done than building a custom drone, like partnering with a drone company. However, with potential government bids coming and contracts potentially lasting for decades to come, NEC doesn’t have to share previous test data with anyone else, giving it a unique edge in the competition.