flying car

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Flying vehicle trialled in Canterbury

Google co-founder (and now Alphabet CEO) Larry Page unveiled his autonomous electric flying car, Cora on Monday.

In 2016, Page invested in two flying car start-ups. One of those was Kitty Hawk, a California based company, who is developing Cora in conjunction with Zephyr Airworks, a New Zealand operator.

Sebastian Thrun, Kitty Hawk chief executive, is a computer scientist who founded a Google research and development facility, which developed Google’s self-driving car project.

Fred Reid, Zephyr Airworks boss, has been chief executive of Virgin America and president of both Lufthansa and Delta Air Lines.

Formerly Zee.Aero, Zephyr Airworks is Kitty Hawk’s operator in New Zealand, although the companies haven’t put a timeline on when it will be available publicly.

Both companies are convinced this new type of vehicle is the future of transport. Reid said to Stuff that the concept would be commonplace “10 or 20 years from now”. Thrun said road traffic was incredibly congested and there was no space to dramatically increase road capacity.

A timeline on the website shows how far things have come over the years, from the electric aircraft’s first hover in 2011, first self-piloted transition in 2014, having a real person fly safely in the air taxi in August 2017, to beginning flight testing in New Zealand in October.


The flying vehicle is intended for use as part of a transportation service instead of sale to individual users. It’s built to use autonomous software, and uses 12 lift fans for vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) like a helicopter, so there’s no need for a runway.

According to the company’s FAQs, Cora is equipped with three independent flight-computers that each calculate its location. If there’s an issue with one of them, Cora can still reliably navigate. The fans and propellers are also electric, they can operate independently. An issue with one has no effect on the others.

Cora can operate between 500 ft to 3000 ft above the ground. It’s wingspan is around 11 meters. The air taxi’s range is currently around 100 kilometres and can reach a speed of 180 kilometres per hour.

What does this mean for New Zealand?

Airways New Zealand announced yesterday it is piloting future technologies needed to support the arrival of autonomous flying vehicles in New Zealand airspace.

The air navigation services provider will develop a nationwide unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) traffic management system, known as UTM, to enable drone activity across New Zealand airspace as well as integrate these vehicles safely into the national air traffic network.

Airways CEO Graeme Sumner says, “There is no doubt that technology is evolving and Airways’ role is to enable safe and flexible access to our airspace to allow these new industries to thrive.

“New Zealand’s regulatory environment and relatively uncongested airspace make us an attractive option for new operators. We are looking for ways to safely support more complex operations and facilitate new entrants, including the Zephyr Airworks’ autonomous aircraft, into our skies.”

Mayor of Christchurch Lianne Dalziel says the project is a perfect fit with our new city of opportunity – a city where we can explore and realise ideas.

“I have had the privilege of seeing the self-piloted air taxi and I am very excited about what it offers for future generations – to live and move in a way that has never been possible before.”

“This aircraft represents the evolution of the transport eco system to one that responds to a global challenge around traffic and congestion, and is kinder to the planet. This is a fully electric aircraft that rises into the air like a helicopter, flies like a plane and then lands again like a helicopter.

“Christchurch is committed to becoming carbon neutral and we are embracing future technologies in the areas of future transport, future foods, Antarctica and space technology, technical adventure clothing, social enterprise – we are open for business and making strong strides in these areas. This project is a great example of our commitment to be prepared for the future and I am grateful to Zephyr Airworks for partnering with Christchurch and Canterbury.”

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Audi gets in on the flying car action

The “pop.up next” concept – Source: Reuters

Audi, Airbus and ItalDesign have teamed up to develop a vehicle that is both autonomous and can fly. 

Last year at the Geneva motor show, it was reported that Airbus and ItalDesign were co-developing a flying car concept, which was based on wheeled pods that could be picked up by flying drones. 

Revealed yesterday at this year’s show, the Pop.Up concept has been developed further, with Audi stepping in; the concept now bears the name Pop.Up Next.

The addition of Audi has resulted in electric and autonomous driving being apart of the vehicle, while Airbus has been refining its quadcopter top and working together with the design firm and the automaker on how to better hand off the two-seat passenger capsule between the wheels on the ground and the rotors in the sky. 

In the distant future this vehicle could transport people in cities quickly and conveniently on the road and in the air, at the same time solving traffic problems. The dominant interior feature is a 49-inch screen, while interaction between humans and the machine is performed by speech and face recognition, eye-tracking and a touch function.

“Last year Pop.Up marked a new — and as we believe highly significant — chapter in the transportation sector by bringing together two worlds, road mobility and air transport, which had never previously met,” commented Jörg Astalosch, CEO of Italdesign.

“The close cooperation with the premium brand Audi confirms that the project could become the standard bearer for future mobility, based on new technologies, sustainability, digitalisation and urbanisation; all sectors in which Audi is a leading company.”


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Flying cars are coming!

Forget autonomous and electric vehicles, look up and you could be lucky enough to spot a flying car. 

The Kitty Hawk Flyer

Although the technology isn’t quite at the stage of the much-loved cartoon, The Jetsons’, the trend is becoming so popular that the New York Times recently dedicated a full page story to the subject.

The flying car getting the most coverage in the news just lately is the Kitty Hawk Flyer, which has been backed by Google Founder, Larry Page. 

The Kitty Hawk Flyer was unveiled recently and has been designed to fly over water. “You don’t need a pilot’s license and you’ll learn to fly in minutes,” it states on the official website.

Launched recently on the company website, the vehicle has had mixed reactions from critics but for those who are interested, there is already an offer on the table to donate $100 towards a Flyer Discovery Membership, in order to get first dibs on the machine and a $2,000 discount. 

The Terrafugia X

For those who want something a bit more modern and aerodynamic, the Terrafugia X is a concept which looks high-tech and according to designers, it “won’t require an airport for takeoff and landing, and it will drive on all roads and highways – providing the convenience of true door-to-door transportation”.

Terrafugia translates as “escape the Earth” in Latin and was founded by five MIT graduates in 2006. 

At present, the team at Terrafugia is completing final production vehicle design for the Transition, a less high-tech looking vehicle which the company is preparing to deliver within the next three years. According to the company website, the Transition has already received all of the special legal considerations necessary to enter the US market, which means that we could possibly see it in New Zealand within our lifetime. 

The Transition has a folding-wing, with two seats inside the aircraft and at the moment, it runs on premium unleaded petrol. The designers plan to incorporate autonomous flight technology in the future. 

Although the future of flying cars seems exciting, to some, it is not a new trend, in fact people have been designing flying cars since before Chitty Chitty Bang Bang took to the skies!

Harrison and Stringfellow’s ‘Ariel’

In 1841, William Samuel Henson and John Stringfellow patented a flying car called ‘Ariel’ which had a wingspan of 150 feet.  It was incapable of flight, however an updated version was built in 1848 which was able to fly short distances. 

The first successful flying car to achieve type certification in the United States was the 1923 Pitcairn PCA-2 which was built by Harold F. Pitcairn and sold in the mass market. 

And even as recently as the 1980s, the Sky Commuter was developed by Boeing engineers and a concept version of the vehicle could be purchased for (US)$71,500.  

The vehicle worked via a gas turbine engine and cost Boeing $6 million dollars in development costs. 

Whatever your feelings are about flying vehicles, their are people out there who are determined to develop a vehicle that will be sustainable, affordable and safe.  The question is, who will succeed?

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