World’s first self-piloted electric flying car unveiled in New Zealand

Cora has been in development for eight years and been secretly tested in NZ since late 2017.

Cora has been in development for eight years and been secretly tested in NZ since late 2017. Photo: Kitty Hawk

A self-piloted, electric “flying car” that takes off like a helicopter and flies like a plane has been unveiled in New Zealand, with predictions it could revolutionise personal air travel.

Cora, which looks like a cross between a plane and a drone, was developed by California-based Kitty Hawk Corporation and was reportedly funded by Google co-founder Larry Page.

The aircraft, engineered over eight years, can take off and land vertically, is electric-powered and will be operated by self-piloting software.

The New Zealand operator, Zephyr Airworks, said Cora had a range of about 100 kms, with speeds of up to 180 kmh, while its prototype can carry two passengers.

The combination of electric power, self-piloting software and vertical take-off is a world first, with developers saying it will lead to “everyday flight, where air travel will be woven into our daily lives”.

Watch Cora in action

The aircraft was by Kitty Hawk, headed by Sebastian Thrun, who previously led the development of Google’s self-driving car project as the director of Google X.

“We’re really proud to be part of this global movement to rethink, to reimagine, how all of us get around every day,” Mr Thrun said in a video presentation.

Eric Allison, Zephyr’s vice-president of engineering, said while Cora takes off and lands like a helicopter, it has none of the noise usually associated with helicopters.

“As it also self-piloting, operation doesn’t require a  pilot’s licence,” Mr Allison said.

The company had been secretly testing the Cora prototype since October 2017 in the province of Canterbury on New Zealand’s South Island.

On its website, Kitty Hawk said Cora will not be available for consumer sale, but is intended to be a part of a service similar to an airline or a rideshare.

The company did not put a timeframe around when it would be available for public flights, but Zephyr Airworks boss Fred Reid told local media there was “a really good shot of doing this in the relatively short future” and was striving to have limited services operating in New Zealand in the next three to six years.

Mr Reid, a former president of Virgin America, Lufthansa and Delta Airlines, predicted the concept of personal, self-piloted air travel would be common “10 or 20 years from now”.

NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern lauded the project, saying the development of Cora was about “sending the message to the world that our [NZ’s] doors are open for people with great ideas who want to turn them into reality”.

Mr Reid told New Zealand media that around 30 companies worldwide were working on similar projects, including Uber who has plans to roll out air taxi services in Los Angeles, Dallas and Dubai by 2020.

A German drone company Volocopter started unmanned test flights of an air taxi in Dubai last September, while Airbus plans to test a  prototype by the end of 2018.

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