Google-Backed Startup Plans to Launch Flying Taxi

According to The New York Times, a “flying car” startup backed by Google co-founder Larry Page has unveiled an “air taxi,” in collaboration with the New Zealand government. A spokesperson for the California-based company Kitty Hawk said they wouldn’t be able to give a timeframe for when this service will be available to consumers, so the project is still in its incipient stages of development. Kitty Hawk envisions the service as similar to an airline or rideshare.

Fortune reports that Kitty Hawk will work on gaining additional certification to begin commercial service via Cora, Kitty Hawk’s prototype air taxi. In a statement, Kitty Hawk CEO Sebastian Thrun said:

“With our prototype air taxi Cora, we are applying eight years of research and development into an entirely new way to commute. We are excited to work with the people of New Zealand to work on this exciting new technology.”

Cora will combine electric power, self-piloting software, and vertical take-off technology similar to a helicopter, according to USA Today, . According to the company’s website, Cora is designed to fit two people, and operate as high as 3,000 feet off the ground at speeds up to 110 miles per hour. The air taxi is part of Page’s apparent vision to bring flying cars to reality. Last year, Kitty Hawk unveiled the Flyer, an ultralight aircraft that users can operate without a pilot’s license.

Several other companies, including Uber and Airbus, are also moving to commercialize flying taxis. According to Forbes, Uber plans to have its service up and running as soon as 2020. The vehicles more often look like small planes than flying cars. Like Kitty Hawk’s Cora, many rely on drone technology and vertical takeoff and landing systems, so they don’t need a runway.

Cora is completely autonomous, can travel at 150 kph (93 mph), and is all-electric with a range of 100 kilometers (about 62 miles). It also takes off and lands vertically so it doesn’t need a runway to operate. In an attempt to reduce pollution, Megan Woods, minister for research, science and innovation for New Zealand, said that Kitty Hawk’s Cora fits in with the country’s aim of having net zero emissions by 2050.

The company did not give a timeline for when the autonomous taxi service could be running, but Kitty Hawk CEO Sebastian Thrun told CNBC in an interview earlier this year that they could take to the skies within five years. Many countries are following, jump-starting campaigns to launch their new flying taxi services.

This approach to self-driving vehicles – essentially an addition to short-haul air travel rather than a replacement for the land-bound car – may have promise where previous “flying cars” have not. Previous ideas were centered around flying personal mobility, with consumers flying Jetsons-like jet cars to work. Those ideas were impracticable for a number of reasons, but flying taxis may ultimately take off.

Photo by Josh Sorenson from Pexels

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