Image: Kitty Hawk

One of the founders of Google’s autonomous car project is now looking to the skies for the next advancement in transport technology. The next generation of taxis could transport their passengers 3,000 feet off the ground and drive themselves.

Sebastian Thrun is CEO of Kitty Hawk, the company behind this ambitious project, and has spent the last eight years developing the vehicle. It looks like something between a plane and a drone, and is capable of transporting two people up to 62 miles. It takes off and lands vertically, much like a helicopter, with the aid of rotor blades along its wings. Moving forwards, a propeller at the back of the ‘taxi’ is capable of getting the vehicle up to speeds of around 110 miles per hour. The taxi, called Cora, will operate between 500 and 3,000 ft above ground level and uses all-electric power.

Kitty Hawk is also developing an app that will allow customers to ‘hail’ a flying taxi, in much the same way that they would call an Uber.

The company revealed that it has been testing Cora over the South Island of New Zealand since October 2017 and is now ready to seek regulatory approval. It is looking for approval to launch the taxi system in New Zealand before looking to roll it out worldwide. Kitty Hawk hopes to have the system operating commercially in less than three years. An ambitious target, however, the project has received personal investment from Larry Page, co-founder of Google and CEO of Alphabet, Google’s parent company. This makes it one of the best-funded projects of its kind.

Kitty Hawk is up against dozens of similar programmes from big names in the autonomous car industry. Uber has a competitor in the works with its Uber Elevate project. Autonomous car start-up Aurora has joined forces with Airbus, and Boeing has made a similar partnership. The race is on to develop the world’s first commercially viable flying cars.  

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