Tech companies are shaking things up again with the dream of the flying car — one day, everyone should be able to fly around town.
Over a dozen start-ups are aiming to create the flying machines, with the backing of firms like Airbus and Uber, the government of Dubai, and wealthy industry figures like Google founder Larry Page.
“We’ve all had dreams of flying effortlessly. I’m excited that one day very soon I’ll be able to climb onto my Kitty Hawk Flyer for a quick and easy personal flight,” Page has stated.
The company backed by Page is called Kitty Hawk. Its CEO is Sebastian Thrun, a founding director of Google’s X lab who also happens to be a pioneer of self-driving vehicles. Kitty Hawk is aiming for its flying car to be one of the first offered to consumers and is trying to start selling its vehicle by the end of 2017.
Kitty Hawk’s Zee Aero division started rumors across Silicon Valley in 2013 when reports arose of a small air, taxi-like vehicle. Now, the company is testing its dream car.
In April, Cameron Robertson, an aerospace engineer who works for Kitty Hawk, piloted a flying car above a scenic lake in Clear Lake, Calif., about 100 miles north of San Francisco.
The flight, which lasted about five minutes and was just 15 feet above the water, featured just one of several prototypes which are said to look much different and be much louder than the final commercial product the company aims to produce.
“We hope that this is more of an exciting concept than what most people have had in their minds about flying cars. This is not yet that product in terms of what we will say and what it can do, but I think it demonstrates a vision of the future, ” said Robertson.
Kitty Hawk faces challenges in the form of competition from other start-ups and larger companies like Airbus — but also in the form of government regulations, logistics, and technology.
In an interview, Mr. Thrun said, “We have been in contact with the FAA and we see the regulators as friends.”
He acknowledged concerns about vehicles flying over our heads. For personal air vehicles to become a reality, the United States would need to overhaul its air traffic control system, something enthusiasts hope will begin testing in 2019.
Others are pointing to issues with batteries and other fundamentals.
Missy Cummings, the director of the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory at Duke University, who is researching personal air transport for NASA, said, “How is this going to work? I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but we can’t even take our cellphones on airplanes today because of fears about battery fires.”
John Leonard, a mechanical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, stated, “Silicon Valley is full of very smart people, but they don’t always get the laws of physics. Gravity is a formidable adversary.”
Even so, Kitty Hawk is optimistic, offering enthusiasts and hobbyists the opportunity to pay $100 to sign up for a $2,000 discount on the retail price of a flying car to “gain exclusive access to Kitty Hawk experiences and demonstrations where a select few will get the chance to ride the Flyer.”
Check out Kitty Hawk’s flying car:
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