Another player in the flying taxi space has emerged in the form of Cora, the first personal transport vehicle from Kitty Hawk, Google co-founder Larry Page’s aviation company.
Kitty Hawk – not to be confused with the popular drone software company – has unveiled the Cora and announced that efforts have begun to launch the passenger drone in New Zealand.
In development for the past eight years, secret testing has taken place under the name of another company, Zephyr Airworks.
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The Cora is an electric, autonomous air taxi that takes off vertically, like a helicopter, but flies like a plane. According to Kitty Hawk, it’s “the first step to a world where the freedom of flight belongs to everyone.”
Cora has 12-rotors, can fly at up to 110 mph and has enough juice in its electric batteries to travel 62 miles at a time. With a wingspan of 11 metres, it’s a little larger than some of the other passenger drones we’ve seen take off in recent times.
You can watch the Cora’s take-off video here.
Testing in New Zealand
Under the guise of Zephyr Airworks, the Cora has been testing in New Zealand since October 2017.
In a blog post, the team writes that New Zealand was an obvious choice, given its “world class reputation in certification and regulation, and a government and society with an eye to the horizon.”
“We quickly realized that there was only one place in the world that had everything we needed — Richard Pearse’s New Zealand. New Zealand’s Central Aviation Authority has the respect of the worldwide regulatory community. A people who embrace the future. And a dynamic economy that could serve as a springboard for Cora.”
Conveniently, New Zealand had its own transport and energy-related priorities that tie in nicely with the Kitty Hawk project. The country is well ont he way to being energy sustainable – 80% of its power is renewable. And they are now looking to harness the benefits of the electric mobility revolution.
Zephyr CEO, Fred Reid, remembers the moment when the Cora team met with New Zealand’s Central Aviation Authority, “We had no idea what to expect. They could have laughed us out of the room. We were pitching something that sounded like science fiction.”
However, Dr Peter Crabtree of New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) saw the opportunity. “In New Zealand, we know we can’t keep using the same old approaches to meet our future challenges. We saw Cora’s potential as a sustainable, efficient and transformative technology that can enrich people’s lives, not only in New Zealand, but ultimately the whole world.”
What does the future hold for Cora?
Kitty Hawk is being financed by Larry Page, but heading up operations is former Google autonomous car director Sebastian Thrun.
In a statement on the company website regarding the near future of Cora, it’s clear that plenty of testing remains.
“We are not putting timeframes around when Cora will be available for public flight. We have a lot of work to do and we are working constructively with regulatory authorities. We are looking forward to being able to share our product with the New Zealand public when the time is right.”