Kitty Hawk, the hush-hush flying car venture backed by Google billionaire co-founder Larry Page, unveiled the first working prototype of its all-electric Flyer today – but this one is more suited for a dock than a garage.
The single-seat vehicle looks like a cross between a Jet Ski watercraft and a scaled-up octocopter, with a couple of floats attached to the bottom.
“As you can see it’s a bit rough around the edges,” Kitty Hawk said on its website, “but we were so excited to show you its capabilities that we didn’t want to wait until we finished its design. The consumer version will be available by the end of this year.”
Kitty Hawk said the finished Flyer “will have a different design.” But like the prototype, it’ll be classified as an ultralight and won’t require a pilot’s license to operate. Kitty Hawk expects it to win approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for recreational flying over fresh water in uncongested areas.
That means you shouldn’t expect to take it on a quick hop from your garage to a friend’s house – unless you all happen to live around a lake, as shown in the promo video released today:
Kitty Hawk, which is helmed by autonomous-driving researcher Sebastian Thrun, hasn’t yet set a price for the Flyer. But the venture is offering to sign up fans for online updates, behind-the-scenes events and a $2,000 discount on the vehicle when it becomes available, all at a cost of $100 for a three-year membership.
The New York Times got in on a field test of the Flyer at Clearlake, Calif., north of San Francisco. The craft howled “as loudly as a speedboat” during a five-minute trial run, the Times’ John Markoff said, but the company says the production-model Flyer will be quieter.
Page is said to be investing $100 million in Kitty Hawk and Zee Aero, a division of the company. Today he said he’s looking forward to seeing the Flyer hit the market,
“We’ve all had dreams of flying effortlessly,” Page said in a statement cited by the Times. “I’m excited that one day very soon I’ll be able to climb onto my Kitty Hawk Flyer for a quick and easy personal flight.”
Kitty Hawk strongly hinted that other flying vehicles, including vehicles suited for overland travel, would be on the way as well. But the flying-car field is getting more crowded, and includes players such as Airbus (which aims to test a prototype in Oregon), Uber, Joby Aviation, Terrafugia, E-volo, Ehang and AeroMobil.
Just last week, a German startup called Lilium unveiled its own flying-car prototype.
For all-electric aircraft such as the Flyer and Lilium’s two-seater, battery life is a key factor. Five-minute flights may be sufficient for hopping from one lakehouse to another. But battery storage capacity will have to improve further before we get a satisfying answer to the age-old question: “Dude, where’s my flying car?”