Kitty Hawk, the flying car startup financially backed by Google cofounder Larry Page, has been quietly testing flying taxis in New Zealand. We first saw the news via The New York Times.
The company has been testing what looks like a hybrid between a helicopter and a glider over the South Island of New Zealand during the last five months. The Cora aircraft is a self-flying vehicle with 12 rotor blades which allow it to take off and land vertically.
Kitty Hawk's idea is to build a network of self-flying air taxis. Like Uber, but for "The Jetsons."
The prototype Cora is all-electric, can carry two passengers, and flies between 150 metres and 900 metres above the ground. It has an 11-metre wingspan and operates a single propeller. It can travel at around 180 kilometres per hour, and has a range of around 100 kilometres.
Kitty Hawk chose New Zealand as a testbed due to its "forward thinking regulatory system," according to an update on its website. It's been testing the vehicles through a local operator called Zephyr Airworks, and Cora has an "experimental airworthiness certificate" from both New Zealand and American aviation authorities. Kitty Hawk is working on further certification so it can launch a commercial air taxi service.
The project was officially unveiled on Tuesday by Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand's prime minister, and Fred Reid, chief executive of Zephyr Airworks.
Here's what Kitty Hawk said on its site:
"Designing an air taxi for everyday life means bringing the airport to you. That's why Cora can take off and land like a helicopter, eliminating the need for runways. Cora has the potential to transform spaces like rooftops and parking lots into places to take off right from your neighborhood."
Zephyr Airworks is working in collaboration with New Zealand's business ministry, its transport ministry, and its Civil Aviation Authority.
Kitty Hawk is led by Sebastian Thrun, a former Google scientist who worked on the company's self-driving cars and Google Glass.
Little is known about the company beyond its founders and its flying car mission. It is financed by Larry Page, Google's cofounder, and he and Thrun envisage that flying cars will be the norm within a decade. According to a Bloomberg report in 2016, Page has spent at least $100 million (R1.2 billion) on the project since 2010.
Kitty Hawk demonstrated its first prototype, the Flyer, last April and the company said it would open signups to buy an aircraft in 2017.
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