A number of startups have promised to bring a drive-and-fly vehicle to market over the past few years, but none have yet managed to follow through. NFT Inc. is betting it will succeed where its rivals have failed, with preorders opening Thursday for ASKA, the company’s first electric flying car.
The SUV-sized ASKA ( which means "flying bird" in Japanese) may be better described as a plane that drives, rather than a car that flies. Even when its six rotors are folded closed, the vehicle has the unmistakable look of a flying craft, with a helicopter-esque bubble front window and a distinct tail that would be familiar to anyone who has flown on an airplane.
ASKA isn’t anticipated to be delivered until 2026, which is the point by which the company estimates regulations on safety and traffic control will have developed enough to support consumer use of new aerial mobility vehicles. A company spokesperson confirmed that NFT has already started receiving preorders for the vehicle, which comes with a $789,000 price tag that includes pilot training.
Being the first company to bring a consumer flying car to market is an ambitious goal. NFT declined to disclose its backers, but it did say that the preorders -- which require a $5,000 deposit -- are fully refundable.
Company co-founders Guy Kaplinsky and Maki Kaplinsky told TechCrunch that aerial mobility vehicles -- the ASKA chief amongst them -- will fundamentally change urban and suburban life.
“It’s going to change the dynamic of the cities,” Guy Kaplinsky said. “Urban air mobility is going to redefine the suburb and rural areas,” Maki Kaplinsky added. “It’s going to transition wealth into outlying areas [. . .] and I’m sure it’s going to be of great interest for those surrounding suburbs.”
It’s easy to imagine how this might be the case: Freed from the shackles of urban living and its attendant traffic patterns, the ultra-wealthy would be able to relocate to areas even beyond the suburbs, given ASKA’s 250-mile range, and travel into cities only when they needed or wanted to.
What sets ASKA apart from its competitors, the co-founders say, is that customers won’t need to go to an airport to use the craft. Likewise, regulators would not need to worry about a large influx of urban air mobility users in airports. Instead, they’ve designed ASKA for door-to-door transportation -- all the driver needs is enough space for the vehicle to unfold its wings and rotor blades. While ASKA can take off on a runway, like a conventional airplane, it’s also capable of vertical lifting, like a helicopter. Guy Kaplinsky explained that conventional takeoff is less energy intensive, and that customers may choose this form of takeoff in a rural area, where there’s lots of space, and vertically land in the city.
Each rotor will be equipped with an independent battery pack, but the company also decided to install two range extenders for redundancy, which will supply power by gasoline. The two middle rotors of the plane can also act as wings and can support gliding in case of emergencies.
“Most of our users are going to be new pilots and for us safety is number one,” Guy Kaplinsky said. “The problem right now is the [battery] cell. There is no chemistry cell developer in the world that would tell you that his cell would not fail in the air, and we cannot take that risk.” ASKA could become all-electric at some point in the future, however, depending on developments in battery technology, Kaplinsky said.
The ASKA will be small enough to be kept in a conventional garage or driveway, and will be able to recharge using charging stations that exist for electric vehicles. Also matching some EV companies, ASKA will be equipped with third-party semi-autonomous technology. “Since we are targeting consumers that include non-professional pilots, we believe that semi-autonomous technology will help them feel comfortable having a certain degree of control, rather than sitting in a fully autonomous ‘robot’,” the company spokesperson told TechCrunch. Even if regulations allow full autonomy at some point in the future, “we believe that still many customers would appreciate having semi-autonomous/some degree of control,” the spokesperson added.
NFT also wants to reimagine the buying experience with its ASKA showroom opening in Los Altos, California on Thursday. There, customers will be able to speak to experts in aerodynamics and flight control. If a person is among the first 1,500 preorders, they will be given one share of the company and be inaugurated into what the company is calling the Founder’s Club. Members will be able to meet every three to six months with company executives.