People ProfilesOctober 4, 2023

Meet the woman entrepreneur behind the world’s first drive-and-fly eVTOL

Maki Kaplinsky, the cofounder of ASKA, is developing a real flying car.
Avatar Patrick Ball

Imagine a world where the skies are dotted with sleek and efficient flying vehicles, blending seamlessly into the urban landscape. 

As you step into your own flying car, you’re greeted by a streamlined interior that exudes both comfort and functionality. It is not an extravagant machine, but a practical mode of transportation designed to enhance mobility and improve the daily commute. As flying cars have become integral to modern transportation infrastructure, traffic congestion is a thing of the past; these intelligent vehicles synchronize their movements, guided by advanced algorithms and communication systems.

From your elevated vantage point, you gaze down upon a city transformed. The skyline is a mesmerizing dance of architectural wonders and soaring vehicles, painting a picture of progress and efficiency.

Although this seems like a faraway future from a science fiction movie, flying cars are closer than you might think.  Maki Kaplinsky, an air mobility innovator and entrepreneur, is working to make this a reality. ASKA™ A5 is the world’s first flying car to start the type certification process with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as a drive-and-fly eVTOL. A full-scale prototype of the ASKA™ A5 has successfully completed its first airborne tests, lifting vertically with hovered thrust while the vehicle was tethered to the ground, and received authorization to drive on public roads from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Meet Maki

Kaplinsky is a serial entrepreneur on a mission to change the efficiency of daily travel. To tackle daily congestion, travel woes, and take the way we commute to the next level, Kaplinsky and her husband, Guy, co-founded ASKA—a company dedicated to creating and building a safe, efficient, and sustainable flying car.

The couple are also parents to three children and envision air mobility as a way for people to move faster, safer and greener with the comfort of door-to-door travel. Families can improve their quality of life by living outside urban areas and gaining access to affordable housing and green space, with the ability to quickly commute into the city center.

Originally from Japan, Kaplinsky has since traveled the world, completing university studies in the United Kingdom and a Master’s degree in Israel, going on to work at the Tel Aviv office of a global company. It was there that she met Guy, nearly 25 years ago. The two discovered that they were compatible in more ways than one – they share a knack for building companies, discovering new ideas, and collaborating with other changemakers to drive innovation. 

“We know each other. We understand each other,” said Kaplinsky. “It’s a wonderful dynamic when two people can be partners in life and in business. I know quite a few founders of other startups that are very successful as a couple.”

As a team, the Kaplinskys have successfully founded two previous startups, the last being an Internet of Things company that completed a merger and acquisition in 2017.  But they believe that ASKA, which translates to “flying bird” in Japanese, is their best idea yet. And the couple has been working around the clock to enable the drive-and-fly vehicle to soon take flight.

When Kaplinsky was earning her advanced degrees in Psychology, she could not have predicted that her career path would be to one day develop a flying car. But she had big ideas and an ambition to work on future technologies.

Kaplinsky explained: “I was doing research experiments and analyzing data, but after receiving my Master’s, I realized that I did not want to just be doing research. I wanted to build technologies and do something that would have a major impact on people.” 

Fast-forward to today, where Maki is an influencer in air mobility – recognized by Forbes as one of 100 leading self-made women in Japan and in the world, and on Inc. Magazine’s list of 2023’s Most Dynamic Women Entrepreneurs.

Taking flight

Currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area, the inspiration for ASKA came from Kaplinsky’s experience of living in big cities and seeing the impact of urban traffic congestion on quality of life. 

“I saw how congestion and the cost of living in cities can have a huge effect on society—long commutes and unaffordable housing for families,” Kaplinsky said. “We want air mobility, specifically the ability to drive and fly, to improve the quality of life for people, create a fast and safe transportation link between urban and rural areas, and help solve the problem of rising cost of living and lack of affordable housing.”

The Kaplinskys’ flying car is an electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle, or eVTOL. The 4-seater ASKA™ A5 is the size of a large SUV and has vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) and conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) capabilities. ASKA™ can drive like a car and will be able to take off to fly vertically in the air like an aircraft with a flight range of 250 miles. The first edition of ASKA™ will require a private pilot’s license but future versions will be fully autonomous, allowing you to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

The ASKA™ 5 is set for commercialization in 2026 subject to certification. The company is already taking pre-orders.  

“I believe that ASKA™ will advance the integration of air mobility because it makes use of existing infrastructure, such as parking, charging stations, airfields, and helipads, for a seamless integration into city and suburban landscapes,” Kaplinsky said. Kaplinsky herself is getting her pilot’s license to eventually fly her own ASKA™ 5 eVTOL. 

Although the idea of a flying car can be daunting, safety is a top priority for the ASKA team. The company’s eVTOL is equipped with six motor systems with individual power sources, sufficient reserve fuel and flight time from the electric hybrid propulsion system, and a ballistic parachute for extra safety. Because ASKA™ is a hybrid vehicle, it can secure sufficient reserve flight time the FAA requires. 

“We have achieved a series of technological milestones; successfully performing airborne testing and driving tests,” said Kaplinsky. “The data we are harvesting from flight testing is enabling us to make progress towards our type certification. We are progressing towards our next milestone, G1 status.”

ASKA and FAA - Humans Driving Progress - Dassault Systemes
Maki and Guy Kaplinsky, together with the FAA, receiving the Special Airworthiness Certification for ASKA’s full scale prototype. (Photo courtesy Maki Kaplinsky)

Up, up, and away

If you ever find yourself in the Bay Area, you may drive past ASKA™ A5 on the road. The vehicle has completed more than 500 miles of road testing around Silicon Valley.

“People are stopping and taking photos and movies and clips—it’s an amazing response,” Kaplinsky commented. “I am so grateful for the hard work of our team. A new wave of innovation is happening in aviation and ASKA is a pioneer, I’m excited to be contributing to that.”

Maki Kaplinsky isn’t the only one making changes in the transportation industry. Discover more Humans Driving Progress. 

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