A secretive flying auto startup has been quietly testing self-flying airtaxis in New Zealand, with an eye to eventually launching a commercial flying taxi service. A video showed a prototype aircraft flying over water, but it was unclear when it would be approved by regulators for anything more than a hobby. Being electric, the air taxi is also "remarkably quiet", according to Eric Allison, Kitty Hawk's vice president of engineering.
The New Zealand bit is interesting, because the statement Kitty Hawk released is as much an advertisement for the regulatory environment in the small country off the Australian coast as it is a promotion for this new device.
The aircraft uses self-flying software and 12 lift fans for a vertical take-off and landing, so a runway is not required.
The venture has been unveiled by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, alongside Zephyr Airworks, the local operator of Kitty Hawk, which is backed by Alphabet CEO Larry Page. That means it can take off like a helicopter but fly like a plane. Cora can also fly at altitudes of between 500 to 3,000 feet and is to be powered by a fully electric engine.
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Dr Peter Crabtree of New Zealand's MBIE saw the opportunity immediately: "In New Zealand, we know we can't keep using the same old approaches to meet our future challenges".
Mr Johns says it is fitting that this part of the world hosts the trials of the electric self-piloting air taxi.
It hopes to make the vehicles commercially available in New Zealand within three years. "We are looking for ways to safely support more complex operations and facilitate new entrants, including the Zephyr Airworks' autonomous aircraft, into our skies".
Of course, Kitty Hawk isn't the only company doing such work. But it's hard for a human pilot to control an aircraft with a bunch of propellers, so sophisticated software is needed to make a vehicle like this work. Considering it took eight years to reach this stage, and that it's in competition with several other air taxi manufacturers like Uber Elevate, Airbus, Ehang and others, it's not likely that information will be made public anytime soon.