Fulfilling the Dream of Flying Cars (Part II)

[The Power to Create the Future Special] Tsubasa Nakamura, CARTIVATOR Project Lead, and Shoichi Arisaka, President and Representative Director of TechShop Japan

"We Can Improve Output Quality by Encouraging Members to Do What They Want Instead of Giving Instructions by the Minute." (Nakamura)

(Continued from Part I)

Arisaka: You started this non-profit, volunteer organization with friends and it rapidly grew into a company with 100 employees. I'm impressed you can still manage it after this change in workforce size!

Nakamura: I can do it because I do not perform all the management tasks by myself; I divide people into small teams and have them solve minor tasks. Since everyone joined the company to do what they wanted to do, I do not think a pyramidal management structure would work for our activities. Except for the mission and vision, which I, as leader, guide the company to follow, I ask members to present their own ideas one after another.

Arisaka: This could be called innovation-oriented management. Perhaps that's the ideal form.

Nakamura: The output resulting from members' ideas is really terrific. It may be partly because we are a group of weird people. (Laughs.) In my opinion, we can improve output quality by encouraging members to do what they want instead of giving instructions by the minute.

"A Point of Note Is That This Project Is Cutting Edge in Terms of Ways of Working and Its Technology." (Arisaka)

Tsubasa Nakamura, CARTIVATOR Project Lead (right) and Shoichi Arisaka, President and Representative Director of TechShop Japan (left)

Arisaka: This project has adopted a completely new way of working. It facilitates not only mobility by enabling development to be conducted across several bases according to the situation but also open innovation by allowing diverse people to join the project. The way you divided people into small teams and let them organize things gradually led to optimization. A point of note is that this project is cutting edge in terms of ways of working and its technology.

Nakamura: I'm sorry if this sounds conceited, but a discussion of "What is the purpose?" is often missing from work practice reform and open innovation. It would be impossible for a single company to develop a flying car, so it is only natural to adopt an open innovation approach.

Arisaka: I agree completely. It is only when there is an idea to be realized or enthusiasm to accomplish something that co-creation and open innovation are achieved. They are means, not purposes.

Nakamura: I believe new ways of doing business will become more prevalent as a wider variety of detailed stories come to be heard and more people notice them and follow those ways. For instance, we have junior and senior high school students learning programming who participate in the project, which seems surprising to everyone. What they are doing is create a SkyDrive game. I lightheartedly invited them to do so at the lecture where I first met them because when I told them I wanted to create a video game, they replied that they could.

Arisaka: That's a refreshing story. Open innovation is often associated with horizontal connections between different companies or industries, but there are also vertical connections between different generations.

Nakamura: I did not intentionally recruit junior and senior high school students, but their skills and orientations were similar to mine. Although some people can code in my generation, young people today are more used to it and more interactive, probably because creating a game about flying cars while seeing one in real life is very exciting. It's very invigorating.

"We Are Struggling to Complete the Job within the Remaining Three Years (Laughs) of This Six-year Project, But in My Opinion, This Punishingly Short Period Motivates Us." (Nakamura)

Arisaka: I heard you set a goal of "presenting SkyDrive globally in 2020"?

Nakamura: Yes. The first objective I set when I started the project was a "2020 world debut," which is a major milestone before market launch in 2025.

Arisaka: The project started in 2014, which means a six-year development period. That is pretty short, isn't it?

Nakamura: Ten years is too long to maintain motivation, whereas three years is too short to achieve the goal. Six years is barely enough if we work hard. We are struggling to complete the job within the remaining three years (laughs) of this six-year project, but in my opinion, this punishingly short period motivates us.

Arisaka: What stage is the project in now?

Nakamura: We are on course to achieve unmanned stable flight by next spring. Recently, we fixed the internal and external designs of a 1:1 scale prototype; we will now start to make parts using the machining tools at TechShop Tokyo. After confirming unmanned stable flight, we will finally set out to achieve manned flight. Actually, we are designing a manned flying car in parallel since we only have three years left. To do so, we must comply with related laws and regulations, so we are also doing legal research. In early 2019, we will stably fly our car at a height of about 30 meters with a pilot inside.

Arisaka: 30 meters! That is rather high.

Nakamura: Once it takes off and stabilizes at a height of several meters, it can easily ascend from there given enough power. The first task is to stabilize hovering at a height of several meters. Without solving this issue, we cannot proceed to the next step.

"I Want to Collaborate with Craftspeople in Tokyo. I Believe Connections between People Are Still an Essential Element in Innovation." (Nakamura)

Arisaka: Do you have other ideas you want to realize at TechShop Tokyo?

Nakamura: First, I want to build a 1:20 scale model of SkyDrive and display it as a permanent exhibit here. Second, I want to hold a DIY event in which participants can customize the designs of palm-sized miniatures according to their tastes. I'm sure this will be fun to do with children.
Lastly, since I am designing SkyDrive's undercarriage in Tokyo, I want to create parts for prototypes at TechShop Tokyo. There are many small-yet-excellent automobile-related factories in Tokyo's Ota and Sumida, so I want to collaborate with craftspeople in these areas. I believe connections between people are still an essential element in innovation.

Arisaka: CARTIVATOR's use of this place as a development base also acts as a good stimulus to TechShop members. Also, an increasing number of people will pay attention to the project. Increased visibility may attract criticism, but pay it no mind and just go for it!

"They Can Address Their Frustration Only by Actively Stimulating the 'Metabolism of Industry'." (Nakamura)

Nakamura: Although I sometimes happen to hear negative opinions, I avoid taking unnecessary advice as much as possible. If I were to abandon the project based on someone's advice, I would not have started it in the first place. Moreover, we as a group do not have time to pause to consider such advice. We will have to hold an intense discussion about commercialization, but I feel that in earlier project phases I should just do what I want to do.

Arisaka: Basically, new things result from that kind of motivation, don't they? New things are made because of the desire to do something or to create something that you want to do. If one in a million of such ideas succeeds, that is enough innovation when viewed as a whole.

Nakamura: Recently, I have been giving lectures in various places and I found that everyone, especially those of my generation, are very frustrated because a variety of restrictions prevent them from demonstrating their skills or presenting ideas. They can address their frustration only by actively stimulating the "metabolism of industry," though it will be difficult to tackle such a structural problem.

Arisaka: I truly look forward to this project because of its innovativeness not only in terms of technology but also in terms of ways of working. Will it be possible for me to drive a completed car? I will work hard to obtain a license. (Laughs.)

Nakamura: Of course you can! Let's drive into the sky together.

Tsubasa Nakamura
Born in 1984. He received his master's degree from Keio University, where he majored in science and technology. In 2009, he joined a major automobile company and engaged in designing mass-produced cars. In parallel, in 2012 he established CARTIVATOR, a volunteer group, to produce a flying car that suits the next generation. The flying car is under development aiming for a 2020 debut with 100 members of various generations from different organizations.

Shoichi Arisaka
President and Representative Director of TechShop Japan
He joined Fujitsu Limited in 1998 and engaged in marketing ICT systems in the US, Europe, and other Asian countries. He assumed the post of President and Representative Director of TechShop Japan in October 2015. He opened TechShop Tokyo in Minato, Tokyo in April 2016 to spread the maker movement in Japan and help form a society in which many people can give shape to the content of their imagination.
"Every idea is good and worth a try."