A flying car start-up backed by Google founder Larry Page has been secretly testing an electric autonomous aircraft for several months in New Zealand, the company revealed on Tuesday. Silicon Valley-based Kitty Hawk hopes its Cora aircraft will form the basis of an airborne taxi service in the next few years after it began testing in New Zealand late last year. Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, unveiled the venture on Tuesday alongside Fred Reid, chief executive of Zephyr Airworks, Kitty Hawk’s operator in the country.
“Cora rises like a helicopter and flies like a plane, eliminating the need for a runway and creating the possibility of taking off from places like rooftops,” the company said on its website. “Cora will use self-flying software combined with human oversight to make flying possible for people without training.” A confluence of technologies including electric motors and batteries, autonomous navigation systems and even consumer drones has drawn companies including Uber and Airbus to invest in vehicles that can fly themselves, removing the need for a trained pilot to be on board.
The capability for “vertical take-off and landing” (VTOL) promises to open transportation options, from commuter services to drone deliveries. Kitty Hawk, which is named after the location of the Wright brothers’ early flight trials, has been funded by Mr Page personally, outside the Alphabet group.