From Stagecoaches to Cars to Flying Cars. The Auto Industry is Undergoing a Once-in-a-century Paradigm Shift.

DENSO Tech Links Tokyo #11, an event organized by DENSO Corporation, employees involved in air mobility talked about how they are developing flying cars. Shingo Nakata of the Air Mobility Development Dept. explained the background of DENSO’s initiative to develop electric aircraft.

Sep. 13, 2021


Shingo Nakata
Air Mobility Development Dept., Electrification Systems Development Div., DENSO Corporation

Once-in-a-century Paradigm Shift

Shingo Nakata: I’m Shingo Nakata of DENSO. Today I’d like to explain two reasons why DENSO is working on electric aircraft: “changes in land transport” and “an air mobility revolution.” I’ll then talk about flying cars as defined by DENSO.

First, I’d like to explain why DENSO has become involved with electric aircraft. Today, the auto industry is undergoing a once-in-a-century paradigm shift. Let’s look at what happened 100 years ago.

This photo was taken on Fifth Avenue, New York in 1900. As you can see, stagecoaches were used for transport. All the vehicles on the road were stagecoaches.

This photo was taken on Fifth Avenue, New York in 1913, just 13 years after the previous photo. All the stagecoaches have been replaced by cars. The Ford Model T was released in 1908, so the form of transport changed completely in only five years. There was a total shift in mobility.

Cars evolved but remained basically the same for 100 years, namely, they were powered by an internal combustion engine. The driver drove the car in a closed cabin. And cars were owned and used by the driver.

Today, cars have been transforming due to changes in society, including global warming, air pollution, and urbanization.

Information-based and intelligence-based technologies have also been changing rapidly. Everyone has witnessed the technological revolution in daily life. There has been a shift from ownership to sharing due to the diversification of values and changes in consumption behavior.

“CASE” — Automotive Technological Innovation

Such changes in society have been accelerating changes in the automotive sector. Due to technological innovation called “CASE,” the cabin, which used to be closed, is now connected with the outside world via the Internet. Driving will be increasingly automated.

Once owned by the driver, cars will be shared by many drivers. Once powered by an internal combustion engine, cars will be increasingly electrified. Cars are undergoing a once-in-a-century paradigm shift, which is the second revolution since the Ford Model T.

From the viewpoint of overall land transport, including cars, the concept of “MaaS (Mobility as a Service)” is about to become a reality. Specifically, the entire mobility, including shared cars that I mentioned earlier, will be seamlessly connected so that all people can enjoy flexible, comfortable, and inexpensive mobility.

The evolution of a mobility-centered society will spread from land transport to air mobility. This figure shows our future vision of society. As I explained earlier, the optimum means of land transport will be connected by casual and readily available air mobility. This will make it quick and comfortable to travel between home and destination.

The air mobility revolution is the key to a new mobility-centered society. Flying cars, which will bring about this revolution, will symbolize the new society.

We will contribute to both the innovation in land transport and the revolution in air mobility to achieve our future vision of society.

“Flying Cars” Defined by DENSO

Now, I’d like to move on to the next topic: What are flying cars as defined by DENSO? I’ll briefly explain the convenience brought about by making air mobility readily available.

First, people will move point-to-point. This map shows a route from Tokushima City to Adventure World in Nanki Shirahama across the strait. The blue line shows the route by car; it takes almost four hours for this long detour.

By train, it takes even longer. You must go north to Takamatsu, cross the Seto Ohashi Bridge, take a Shinkansen bullet train to Shin-Osaka, then take a limited express to go south again. Direct travel by air mobility will reduce the time to just 15 minutes. This is the convenience of linear point-to-point mobility.

Second, air mobility helps avoid congestion as shown on the right, which occurs frequently in urban areas like the photo at the top. It often takes a very long time to travel a short distance. Air mobility will significantly reduce travel times because there is no congestion.

The figure below shows a calculation by Uber. This is a route from Marina District to downtown San Francisco. It takes 100 minutes by car, but only 15 minutes by air mobility. Air mobility will significantly reduce travel times and increase convenience and comfort.

DENSO’s Answer to Flying Cars

What are flying cars that provide air mobility? For the user, flying cars must provide convenience at low cost.

From the viewpoint of public acceptance, they must be clean and quiet. The most important common value is safety. Electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing aircraft, or eVTOL, meet all these requirements. eVTOL is the flying car as defined by DENSO.

Let me explain the reasons briefly. In terms of convenience, flying cars can perform vertical takeoff and landing without a runway, so it is possible to reach close to the destination and travel point-to-point. This will be extremely convenient.

Fuel and maintenance costs will also be greatly reduced because flying cars will be powered by electricity. This will significantly reduce the cost of mobility. Electric flying cars will provide clean mobility with zero emissions. They will also be quiet because they will be driven by motors instead of an internal combustion engine.

Let’s move on to the most important value: safety. As shown here, eVTOL is a multirotor aircraft with multiple propellers. Even if one rotor fails, it is possible to fly normally by using the remaining normal rotors.

Even if two rotors fail, the remaining rotors can fully control the aircraft to perform landing. The multirotor redundancy design ensures a high level of safety.

In the past, the idea of a multirotor configuration for aircraft was floated, but it was impossible to equip each propeller with an internal combustion engine, because they are very heavy and large. Electrification enables a multirotor configuration because propellers can be driven by lightweight and compact motors.

Electrification is the key to revolutionizing air mobility with eVTOL. We are applying automotive electrification technology to achieve this revolution and a new mobility-centered society. Let's watch a video that conveys this message.

“ELEXCORE” Electrification Product Brand

Finally, I’d like to introduce “ELEXCORE,” an electrification product brand that incorporates DENSO’s electrification technology, which will be explained in more detail by Yamada and Kimura later.

ELEXCORE is an electrification product brand to make mobility sustainable. DENSO aims to achieve sustainable mobility by spreading better electrification products. The technology will be used for air mobility motors and inverters.

This is the electric propulsion unit for electric aircraft that we have been developing. To be clear, we are developing the electric propulsion unit, not the flying car. The motor rotates a rotor, which is the key part of flying cars.

The electric propulsion unit is shown here on the right. The unit contains a motor and an inverter, which are shown in yellow. It incorporates two motors and two inverters, which are connected in parallel. The propeller is mounted at the top.

A redundant configuration is used for the motors and inverters for each propeller. So, even if one motor and one inverter fail, the safe design ensures that the propeller will continue to rotate normally with the remaining motor and inverter.

This image was taken from a different angle. The ELEXCORE brand logo is indicated under the DENSO logo. We use ELEXCORE technology for the electric propulsion unit for electric aircraft.

This is how we apply automotive technology to air mobility for flying cars. We will apply air mobility technology to various means of mobility.

We hope to create a clean and safe mobility-centered society by electrifying all mobility.

In the future, mobility will diversify to meet the needs of users. All means of mobility, including passenger cars, motorcoaches, and personal mobility vehicles, will be electrified.

In order to help electrify various means of mobility, DENSO will develop a wider range of electrification products based on automotive technology, including using motors and inverters for air mobility.

DENSO will also develop ultra-compact and lightweight products for air mobility and use them to revolutionize other means of mobility.