Image: Kitty Hawk

The race to produce the world’s first commercial flying car has well and truly started as company Kitty Hawk has unveiled a prototype of its all-electric self-flying taxi, Cora.

The company has been personally funded by Google co-founder, Larry Page, who is the current CEO of Alphabet (Google’s parent company). Kitty Hawk is headed up by Sebastian Thrun, who was director of Google X and helped develop its autonomous car project.

Cora has been undergoing tests over the South Island of New Zealand since October. It looks like a hybrid of a small plane and a drone and is capable of taking off vertically due to rotor blades along each wing. A propeller at the back can then engage and allow Cora to fly at about 110 miles per hour. There is room on board for two passengers and it is designed to operate between 500 and 3,000 ft above ground. The range of the aircraft will initially be about 62 miles and uses all-electric power.

The company has now announced that it is ready to start the process to gain regulatory approval to launch its planned autonomous flying taxi system in New Zealand. They hope that this will then pave the way for other countries. Kitty Hawk hopes that a commercial service will have been launched within three years. The technology that would allow customers to hail a flying taxi is currently being developed and will take the form of an app, much like Uber. The ability of Cora to take off and land vertically, like a helicopter, means that passengers could be picked up from car parks, rooftops, or even outside their homes.

If Kitty Hawk delivers on its promise to have the project up and running commercially within the next three years, it is very likely to be the first to do so. They face competition from some big names in both the aviation and autonomous car industries. Uber has its Uber Elevate programme while Airbus is working with Aurora. Boeing has also made a very recent investment in an aviation start-up in New York. Flight Global estimates that Kitty Hawk is competing with at least 54 other electric flying taxi projects.

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