What’s the difference between a plane and a flying taxi?
No matter what you call it, electric-powered, autonomous aircraft are starting tests in New Zealand, with the aim of carrying passengers in three years. Kitty Hawk, the company led by Google X founder Sebastian Thrun and funded by Google co-founder Larry Page, will begin tests as part of an official certification process, according to the New York Times.
Kitty Hawk will operate the flights through Zephyr Airworks, which Kitty Hawk set up in New Zealand in 2016. Zephyr Airwork’s CEO is Fred Reid, the founding CEO of Virgin America and former president of Delta Air Lines.
Kitty Hawk’s aircraft, called Cora, looks like a mix between a drone and a small plane. Its wings are studded with 12 drone-like propellers, which pivot to maneuver the aircraft. The craft, with a wingspan of 36 feet, can carry two people.
According to the Kitty Hawk’s website, the company has been working on prototypes since December 2011 and made its first transition from hovering to forward flight in 2014. The Cora aircraft has a range of 62 miles. Thrun previously told Quartz that the rise in popularity in drones, as well as breakthroughs in battery technology, are why he sees “flying cars” as possible.
It’s unlikely that such tests will occur in the United States; the New York Times notes that while the Federal Aviation Administration allows test flights of autonomous flying vehicles, it hasn’t made any moves to allow commercialization of the technology.