A new air taxi service financially backed by Google co-founder Larry Page is set to take off in New Zealand, thanks to an agreement announced this week.
Page’s Kitty Hawk company, the developer of a new autonomous flying machine called “Cora,” will begin testing the service in rural Canterbury, a region in the South Island, according to Hayden Munro, press secretary for Megan Woods, New Zealand’s minister of research, science and innovation.
The electric air taxi can carry two passengers. It is designed to take off like a helicopter, and it uses proprietary software to fly like a regular fixed-wing aircraft, with the help of some human supervision.
Zephyr Airworks, Kitty Hawk’s New Zealand affiliate, has been working with government officials on plans to test the new service as part of a program meant to encourage science and innovation in the country.
Kitty Hawk CEO Sebastian Thrun was the founder of Google X, where he led the development of self-driving cars, Glass and other key projects. Zephyr Airworks CEO Fred Reid was the founding CEO of Virgin America, as well as former president of Delta Air Lines and Lufthansa Airlines.
“International innovators are finding our unique expertise, resources and talent, together with our size and location, offer surprising advantages when it comes to turning ideas into reality,” said Woods.
“Zephyr Airworks’ presence in New Zealand will help build capacity in our own science system, particularly in areas like software engineering, artificial intelligence, robotics, composite materials and aviation design,” she added.
The electric-powered Cora aircraft is designed using 11 independent lift fans, which allow the plan to take off vertically like a helicopter. It has a wingspan of 36 feet. The aircraft can fly at altitudes ranging from 500-3,000 feet at speeds of up to 110 miles per hour. It has a range of 62 miles.