Google Co-founder Unveils Self-flying Taxi in New Zealand

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March 12, 2018

Joining a growing number of other countries, New Zealand is launching itself into the flying taxi market, thanks in large part to efforts and funding from Google co-founder Larry Page.

Kitty Hawk Cora

Page, also known as much of the brains behind Google's driverless car efforts, set up a California-based company called Kitty Hawk (named for the location of the Wright Brothers' First Flight) that has been testing an air taxi named Cora for several months, operating in New Zealand under the company name Zephyr Airworks.

Sebastian Thrun, CEO of Kitty Hawk, also worked with Page on Google's driverless cars. Kitty's Hawk fully electric taxi has a wingspan of 36 feet and is designed to seat two people (both passengers, thanks to the self-piloting software) and go up to 3,000 feet off the ground, flying at speeds of up to 110 mph for a range of about 60 miles. The taxi resembles a helicopter at takeoff, climbing into the air vertically using a dozen battery-powered rotors.

New Zealand authorities said that the air taxi service could be fully operational within six years; Page has set a timeline of three.

Testing was done in secret in the Canterbury region of the country's South Island. The largest city in the region, Christchurch, has an autonomous shuttle at its airport. Page said that the decision to do testing in New Zealand was based in part on the country's commitment to innovation and new technologies.

Kitty Hawk in 2017 introduced the Flyer, an ultralight, drone-like plane the operation of which can be done by its sole operator without acquiring a pilot's license.

Other countries are already in the flying taxi market:

  • Germany's Lilium Aviation is working on a winged car-for-hire and has already completed an unmanned test.  A manned test flight is planned for 2019. Germany also has a company, based in Frankfurt, called Volocopter, which is working on an electric helicopter-like vehicle for transporting people and cargo.
  • Dubai's EHang has been in the market for a few years.
  • So has Slovakia, with Aeromobil.
  • One of the participants most familiar to Americans is Terrafugia.

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