March 17, 2018

Christchurch testing ground for world's first self-piloted electric air taxi

14 March 2018, 04:11 | Ross Houston

Flying taxi

Flying taxi

The rather diminutive craft has room for just a couple of people on board and has been seen in the skies over New Zealand doing tests in recent months.

The aircraft is totally electric and takes off from the ground like a helicopter before flying through the air like a plane.

Developers at California-based Kitty Hawk said they wanted an all-electric plane - that's a cross between the Delorean time machine in Back to the Future and the hovercar in the sci-fi futuristic cartoon The Jetsons.

The vehicle, has been under development for eight years, and it can take off and land vertically, much like a helicopter.

Included in the company's fact sheet about Cora: what the air taxi will do if its propellers fail in midair.

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Sebastian Thrun, the entrepreneur and computer scientist who formerly headed up Google's self-driving vehicle efforts, is in charge of Kitty Hawk. It can travel at around 110mph, and has a range of around 62 miles. "And a dynamic economy that could serve as a springboard for Cora", Kitty Hawk explained. It's been testing the vehicles through a local operator called Zephyr Airworks, and Cora has an "experimental airworthiness certificate" from both New Zealand and United States aviation authorities. It's wingspan is around 36 feet, making it very small for a commercial aircraft, which is the idea for its intended use in and around urban areas.

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. "New Zealand has always been viewed as having a thoughtful and safety-conscious regulatory regime", the Times reports. You'd hail or reserve one, as you would an Uber-although it's safe to expect that an air taxi ride would be more expensive than your average Lyft home.

It has the potential to "take off from a rooftop and hop across a city", and to "transform a parking lot into an airpad in your neighborhood".

Airways also intends to test the capabilty of New Zealand's existing telecommunications network to track the likes of Zephyr Airworks' autonomous vehicle Cora and UAVs in uncontrolled airspace and enable better telemetry for drone pilots. Kitty Hawk CEO Sebastian Thrun (who previously ran Google's self-driving auto project), said the first thing officials asked was how they could make the regulatory process faster for Kitty Hawk.

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