If you’ve ever watched the 1960s futuristic cartoon The Jetsons, you’ve seen Google co-founder Larry Page’s basic vision for flying taxis. It takes off and lands like a helicopter and flies horizontally with a passenger on board—except George Jetson still had to steer. After several years of quiet development, Page has unveiled the self-driving, electric prototype in New Zealand and plans to bring service-for-hire to the public.
Behind the Curtain of the Secret Flying Taxi
Page, now CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is operating this project by personally financing a company called Kitty Hawk. The company is working to improve the prototype of autonomous flying vehicles, known as Cora, so people could rent similar vehicles for transport.
The names of the companies helped keep the testing covert and limited Page’s visibility. During the flying machine’s development stage, Kitty Hawk was known as Zee Aero. The operator is a company called Zephyr Airworks. Frank Reid, former President of Virgin Airlines and others, is CEO of Zephyr Airworks. However, Kitty Hawk’s CEO is Sebastian Thrun, leader of the self-driving car development at Google X and former Stanford University Professor—a link back to Google and Silicon Valley.
How Cora Flies
With no need for a runway, Cora is designed to take off and land vertically, similar to a helicopter.
“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,” a spokesperson for Kitty Hawk said. “Cora has the potential to transform spaces like rooftops and parking lots into places to take off right from your neighbourhood.”
A dozen small rotors help create that lift, then larger motors and 36-foot airplane-style wings silently propel the vehicle forward. It can carry two passengers at 3,000 feet up to 110 miles per hour, with a current battery range of 62 miles.
Of course, all these grand plans and progress toward autonomous taxis will mean nothing if people are afraid to fly in them. Beginning with this initial announcement, Kitty Hawk is beginning its campaign to reassure the public about safety concerns.
Kitty Hawk’s website boasts all-electric rotors—both fans and propellers—which operate independently for additional safety. Likewise, the navigation can be calculated by three independent flight computers. The system includes a parachute for a landing without the fans.
According to the company’s statement, “Cora will combine self-flying software with expert human supervision, so you can enjoy the ride.”