Google co-founder’s self-flying taxi venture takes off in New Zealand

So-called “flying cars” have come a long way since 2011 when this Russian guy stuck a pair of wings on the side of his own aging motor before screaming down the runway (at 60 mph) and hoping for the best. Remarkably, the contraption flew for 180 meters, though it could only reach an altitude of 3 meters.

While the then 72-year-old driver of that 1987 ZAZ Tavria car likely invested much of his retirement money in his pet project, some far bigger beasts with much deeper pockets have since entered the race to build a truly viable “flying taxi” for short city hops as well as longer rides.

One of those with a dream of creating such a flying machine is Google co-founder Larry Page. He’s been lending support to the development of the Kitty Hawk Flyer, an ultralight electric aircraft that’s essentially a large octocopter with a seat and steering controls. But this week we learned that the team behind the Flyer has a far more ambitious design in the works — Cora.

The cool-looking two-seat machine features 12 wing-mounted rotors to enable vertical takeoff and landing, and a large pusher-prop to help it fly like a regular airplane.

Cora, which was unveiled this week and is currently undergoing flight tests in New Zealand, is fully electric and autonomous. It can carry up to two passengers, has a reported range of 60 miles, and a top speed of 93 mph. Operating with a noise level far below that of a helicopter and without the need of a runway, the aircraft could take off and land in busy urban settings without causing any great disruption to people in the vicinity.

The plan is to use Cora for a commercial flying taxi service in New Zealand, launching before 2022. The antipodean nation has been chosen because of its more relaxed approach to regulation for such projects, and the development of vehicles like Cora will help the country toward its ambition of net zero emissions by 2050.

The team behind Cora is led by Kitty Hawk CEO Sebastian Thrun. He’s one of the folks who helped launch Google’s autonomous car unit — today called Waymo — and who recently hit the headlines for a new “flying car” nanodegree course at online education outfit Udacity.

“We know the technology [for a flying taxi] is feasible because we are already doing it,” Thrun said in a video (above) highlighting his latest project.

There’s certainly plenty happening in the flying-taxi space just now. Last month we saw the first test flight of the Airbus-backed Vahana self-piloting air taxi, and also learned more about EHang’s progress with its 184 flying machine. Uber is developing its own aerial vehicle, too, while Joby Aviation and Volocopter are working on their own vehicles with an eye on an airborne taxi service.

Emerging Tech

This insect-sized drone can fly without any moving parts. How? Physics

Researchers from UC Berkeley have built a tiny insect-scale flying robot. Boasting no moving parts whatsoever, its atmospheric ion thrusters also allow it to move completely silently.
Emerging Tech

Wish you could fly? You totally can with these top-of-the-line drones

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Movies & TV

Best new shows and movies to stream: ‘High Flying Bird,’ ‘White Dragon,’ and more

Need something to watch this weekend? Check out our list of the best new shows and movies to stream right now. On the list this week: High Flying Bird, Won't You Be My Neighbor?, and more.

These 13 gadgets walk a fine line between ingenious and insane

The annual avalanche of devices and gadgets is astounding, but how many will succeed? A few are destined to spark new trends, while the majority fade deservedly into obscurity. We look at some gadgets on the border of brilliant and bonkers.
Emerging Tech

A.I.-powered website creates freakishly lifelike faces of people who don’t exist

No, this isn't a picture of a missing person. It's a face generated by a new artificial intelligence on the website Here's how the impressive A.I. works.
Emerging Tech

China’s mind-controlled cyborg rats are proof we live in a cyberpunk dystopia

Neuroscience researchers from Zhejiang University, China, have created a method that allows humans to control the movements of rats using a technology called a brain-brain interface.
Emerging Tech

Global Good wants to rid the world of deadly diseases with lasers and A.I.

Global Good, a collaboration between Intellectual Ventures and Bill Gates, aims to eradicate diseases that kill children in developing nations. It tackles difficult problems with high-tech prototypes.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s MAVEN orbiter has a new job as a communication relay for Mars 2020

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter has been collecting atmospheric readings but now is taking on a new job as a data relay satellite for the Mars 2020 mission that launches next year.
Emerging Tech

Underground volcanoes could explain possible liquid water on Mars

Last year scientists discovered there could be liquid water on Mars. Now a research team argues that for there to be liquid water, there must be an underground source of heat -- and they believe underground volcanoes could be responsible.
Emerging Tech

The 10 most expensive drones that you (a civilian) can buy

OK, these drones may be a bit beyond your budget: Check out the most expensive drones in the world, from industrial giants to highest-end filming tools.
Emerging Tech

Of all the vape pens in the world, these 5 are the best

Vaping concentrates has become significantly more popular, especially among those that use cannabis for medicinal purposes. But don’t use just any vape pen: we found these five devices to be our favorites in 2018.

The HoloLens 2 will be announced at MWC. Here's what we know about it so far

The HoloLens 2 is ripe for an announcement. Here's what Microsoft has revealed so far, what's likely in store for the next generation HoloLens, and everything that we know about this mixed reality headset.
Emerging Tech

A river of stars one billion years old flows across the southern sky

Astronomers have identified a river of stars flowing across our galaxy and covering most of the southern sky. The estimated 4000 stars that comprise the stream were born together and have been moving together for the last one billion years.
Emerging Tech

Descending at an angle could be key to landing heavier craft on Mars

Landing on Mars is a challenge: The heavier the craft, the more difficult a safe landing becomes. Scientists propose using retropropulsion engines and angling the craft to create a pressure differential to land heavier crafts in the future.