SkyDrive, a Japanese flying taxi startup backed by Toyota, on August 25 successfully demonstrated a prototype vehicle conducting a manned flight for the first time.

The prototype, code-named the SD-03, is essentially a piloted drone big enough to fit the pilot only. However, SkyDrive plans to develop a two-seat version which could potentially offer short-distance flights, i.e. across busy cities, as early as 2023. That target could be a bit too ambitious, though.

The SD-03's first manned flight saw the vehicle only reach a few feet of the ground. It also flew within a protective cage, located at a Toyota test site in Japan, and was in the air for only four minutes.

The goal of the designers was to create the world's smallest vehicle capable of manned flight, vertical takeoff and landing, and fully electric operation. Their SD-03 takes up the space of two parked cars and features eight rotors.

SkyDrive development schedule

SkyDrive development schedule

SkyDrive said the SD-03 has a maximum flight time of 10 minutes but the company is looking to get this up to around 30 minutes for commercial flights, CEO Tomohiro Fukuzawa told Associated Press in an interview last week. SkyDrive is also looking to make its flying taxi fully autonomous by 2030.

SkyDrive's roots go back to Cartivator, which was formed in 2012 by a group of Toyota engineers who in their free time looked at developing a true flying car, i.e. one that can travel on the ground as well as in the air. After gaining backing from investors, including Toyota and Panasonic, they established SkyDrive in 2018.

The next phase of development will see SkyDrive test the SD-03 under an expanding range of conditions. The company will also seek approval from regulators to test the vehicle in more locations. Currently it is limited to the Toyota test site.

SkyDrive is one of just many startups in this space. In fact, Toyota only in January invested almost $400 million in another of these, Joby Aviation. We've also seen Daimler, Hyundai and Porsche back companies developing flying taxis.