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Say Hello to Cora, the New Flying Taxi From a Secretive Startup Funded by Google’s Larry Page

March 13, 2018, 10:31 AM UTC

Kitty Hawk, the secretive flying-car startup that’s funded by Alphabet CEO Larry Page, has finally taken the wraps off its flying taxi, which it calls Cora.

It’s been almost a year since the company showed off a vehicle called Flyer, which was a much more cut-down affair that looked best designed for some new kind of aero-aquatic sport. Cora is a different beast, looking far more like a small plane that is able to take off and land vertically.

Kitty Hawk did its unveiling via a YouTube video and a statement that appeared to take a swipe at the U.S.’s aviation regulations.

It seems Kitty Hawk, a California startup, had no luck getting the permissions it wanted back home, so it decamped to New Zealand instead.

“A path to certifying an air taxi for everyday use just didn’t exist. We had our aircraft. We had our moment. But there was no place in the world where Cora could take the next step. We had no Kitty Hawk of our own,” the statement read (Kitty Hawk was the North Carolina town near which the Wright Brothers made their historic experimental flight). “America in the early 20th century of the Wright Brothers was a hotbed of invention and discovery…We needed a place that was just as bold and dynamic in order to bring Cora to the commercial market.”

The team found its Kitty Hawk in New Zealand, where regulators are apparently into the firm’s all-electric, renewable-energy mission. “Finally, the dreamers from California met the visionaries from New Zealand,” the statement read somewhat breathlessly.

“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,” said Peter Crabtree from the country’s business and innovation ministry.

It’s not quite clear how Kitty Hawk’s frustrations with the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) played out. It’s worth noting that, when it showed off the Flyer, the firm noted that the FAA had certified it as an ultralight aircraft, obviating the need for the person inside to have a pilot’s license.

Kitty Hawk’s new Cora video claims the aircraft is “self-piloting” so, again, there’s no need for a pilot’s license. It also says the firm is working with the New Zealand government on the rollout of a “commercial air taxi service.”

It’s quite possible that New Zealand is more amenable to the idea because it simply has fewer people (a total population of around 4.7 million) and therefore less potential congestion. One of the big problems with the idea of flying cars is the need for demarcating “flyways” in the air.

The U.S. has certainly been a relatively unfriendly host to trials of drone-based delivery services, forcing Amazon to conduct its tests in the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

Other big flying taxi projects on the boil at the moment include those from Uber, which is targeting commercialization within the next decade, and Germany’s Volocopter, which has backing from the likes of Daimler and Intel.