Larry Page's autonomous air taxi 'Cora' flies in New Zealand

Sheri Evans
March 13, 2018

Testing of a self-piloted air taxi is taking place in Canterbury, with the hope the flying service could soon take to the skies.

"The dreamers from California met the visionaries from New Zealand", Kitty Hawk said in a press release that lauds New Zealand for having "a government and society with an eye to the horizon".

A flying vehicle startup backed by Larry Page, the co-founder of Google, has stolen a march on Uber by testing autonomous "air taxis" that could be carrying passengers by 2021.

Eight years in the making, Cora sports a series of rotors on each wing that grants it the ability to take off and land vertically, like a helicopter.

Kitty Hawk's vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft, called Cora, will have a range of around 62 miles to start.

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It will also receive other features like a contextual menu for app shortcuts, reminders for unfinished tasks and more. The update is now being rolled out over-the-air and will soon go live for users in all regions across the country.

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Kitty Hawk is run by former Google X head Sebastian Thrun, while Cora's initial blog post makes out New Zealand as its base to make a future "where the freedom of flight belongs to everyone" in the same way that the Wright Brothers initially took off in North Carolina.

New Zealand is focused on becoming "net carbon zero" by the year 2050, which is why prime minister Jacinda Ardern embraced the emissions-free transportation project.

This time around, though, Kitty Hawk's ambitions are bigger.

The company has been pitching the air taxi privately since 2016, finally choosing New Zealand as its R&D and certification location as well as its launch market due to the country's large support of renewable energy and electric vehicles as well as its accommodating airspace regulations. With a 36-foot wingspan, the aircraft flies between 500 and 3,000 feet above the ground at around 110 miles per hour.

New Zealand regulators on Tuesday approved plans for Zephyr Airworks, a subsidiary of Page's company Kitty Hawk, to develop and test the futuristic air taxis. Most times you hear about flying cars, the news is coming from the Middle East or other areas that aren't really seen as leaders in terms of aviation regulation.

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