Kitty Hawk Tests VTOL Drone in New Zealand

The startup formed by Google cofounder Larry Page hopes to introduce a commercial version of the Cora autonomous air taxi within three years.

A startup endeavor backed by Google cofounder Larry Page has tested an electric-powered vertical takeoff and landing drone in New Zealand. The company, Silicon Valley based Kitty Hawk, revealed released a video of the prototype in flight.

The Cora autonomous craft is targeted at the nascent airborne taxi market that some experts predict could explode in the next few years. It is driven by 12 independently operated rotors mounted fore and aft of the wing, plus a propeller on the tail. After taking off vertically, it transitions to horizontal flight.

In testing since last October, preliminary numbers predict Cora will cruise at 80 knots for about 50 nautical miles. The aircraft is being developed by Zephyr Airworks, Kitty Hawk’s partner in New Zealand.

The emergence of technologies including electric motors and batteries, autonomous navigation systems and consumer drones, has drawn companies including Uber and Airbus to invest in vehicles that can fly themselves from point to point in congested urban centers. The FAA is strongly backing research into VTOL flying taxis as hopes rise that it could usher in a new era in personal mobility.

Kitty Hawk, named after the famous location where the Wright brothers’ first flew, is personally funded by Page and is not a part Google parent firm Alphabet where he serves as CEO.

The hope is that a full production version can reach the market within about three years.