Toyota today said it's investigated the possibility of vehicles that are capable of hovering just above the road, technology designed to improve efficiency. In an interview at Bloomberg's Next Big Thing Summit in San Francisco, Hiroyoshi Yoshiki — the managing officer with Toyota's technical administration group — said that the company had been studying a similar idea of flying cars at one of its "most advanced" research and development areas, but cautioned that the concept was not like actually flying around in three-dimensional space. Instead, he said, the plan is to get the car "a little bit away" from the road to reduce friction, similar to a hovercraft.

Kind of like a hovercraft

Following the interview, Yoshiki declined to elaborate on when the company began investigating the idea, how far along it is, or if it ever plans to bring it to market.

Toyota's Yoshiki was on stage alongside David Friedman, the acting administrator of the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to discuss the future of self-driving vehicles. Last month, Google announced a new version of its driverless car project that was markedly more evolved than the one it's been developing and testing for the past few years. That includes a reference design that fits just two people, and doesn't have a steering wheel.

Google's project faces numerous challenges, including compliance with local and federal laws, as well as high costs of sensor technologies. Google and other companies working on similar projects need to convince the government that autonomous vehicles can safely work alongside normal cars. At the same time, the automatic driving mechanisms require a wide array of expensive sensors and complex software that can make sense of it all.

Friedman said the NHTSA viewed Google's project as a "great taste of innovations to come," but played up the significance of other car technologies that are likely to come to normal cars sooner. That could include new mandates that keep cars apart on freeways, as well as tools to keep cars from drifting on their lane, two thing the regulatory group could require carmakers to include as standard features.