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Google Co-Founder Tests Self-Flying Taxis in New Zealand

March 14, 2018
3 min read
Google Co-Founder Tests Self-Flying Taxis in New Zealand
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Say "Hi" to Cora, Google Co-Founder Larry Page's newest baby.

Cora is an electric air taxi that can carry two passengers. (Photo by Richard Lord, via Kitty Hawk)

Cora is the brainchild of California-based Kitty Hawk, an aviation company headed by Sebastian Thrun, who is the former director of Google X. The company's mission is to bring fully electric, self-piloting aircraft into the public transportation realm.

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

Cora most closely resembles the lovechild of a small plane and a drone, combining electric power, self-piloting software and vertical take-off technology. The aircraft boasts a wingspan of 36 feet, with a dozen battery-powered rotor blades that allow the plane to take off like a helicopter, then fly like a plane. Cora combines electric power, self-piloting software, and vertical take-off technology similar to a helicopter in order to carry two passengers for about 60 miles as high as 3,000 feet off the ground at up to 110 mph.

Kitty Hawk has been testing Cora's flight skills since October 2017, over New Zealand's South Island. In contrast to Uber, which has been quite public about its ambitions to launch autonomous flying taxis in partnership with Embraer, Page and his partners have kept Kitty Hawk's mission very private up until now. In fact, the company's test flights have been operated under another name, New Zealand-based Zephyr Airworks. The Zephyr Airworks/Kitty Hawk partnership will allow the companies to begin pursuing the additional certification necessary to begin commercial service.

Within the United States, meeting the Federal Aviation Administration's stringent safety requirements will be Cora's biggest challenge. While the FAA allows test flights for self-flying aircraft, there are no prior guidelines for bringing this technology to the mainstream public.

Uber's Embraer partnership in Uber Elevate isn't Cora's only competitor in the pilotless aviation space. Boeing purchased autonomous aircraft company Aurora Flight Sciences in November 2017; Airbus is investing in New York-based start-up Blade; and Chinese company EHang has partnered up with the city of Dubai to bring flying taxis to the United Arab Emirates.

As Kitty Hawk's website tagline says, "Things are looking up."

Featured image by Cora, an electric air taxi that can carry two passengers, in flight in New Zealand. (Photo by Richard Lord, via Kitty Hawk)