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Autonomous Air Taxi Unveiled in New Zealand

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The day science fiction becomes science fact may be sooner than you think. An autonomous flying taxi, that can travel up to 180km/h, has been approved for testing in New Zealand. Known as Cora, the flying taxi has been developed by Kitty Hawk, a company backed by Google co-founder Larry Page. This passenger-drone system has the potential to revolutionise personal transport.

Kitty Hawk was using the name of another company called Zephyr Airworks to conduct secret testing of the machine. The firm has announced it’s set to begin the approval process required to launch the flying taxi in New Zealand. It unveiled a prototype version of the aircraft in a flight video. The concept of a flying taxi is nothing new, but Kitty Hawk’s machine is different. For one, it takes off and lands vertically like a drone, thanks to its 12-rotors. Then it uses a propeller to fly, making it a plane-drone hybrid.

This all-electric system is the definition of convenience. The fact it can take off vertically means you won’t need a runway, which makes it perfect for landing in urban areas. Better yet, if flying taxis become commonplace in New Zealand, many people will no longer need to go to the station to catch a train. People will be able to travel directly from A to B, instead of having to find the best route on roads. Congestion, motorways and traffic lights could be a thing of the past for many people. It can fly up to 914 meters off the ground and it has a wingspan of 11 metres, carrying two people. Kitty Hawk is developing an app and technology that allows customers to hail the flying taxi, much like they would an Uber.

The testing of Cora is taking place around Christchurch. Kitty Hawk chose New Zealand for testing because of its physical environment. They also citied their belief that New Zealand is a country that encourages innovation. Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel said, “This aircraft represents the evolution of the transport ecosystem to one that responds to a global challenge around traffic and congestion and is kinder to the planet.” The machine’s sustainability is one of its main benefits. Its rotors are battery-powered and can do 100km on a single charge. It’s pollution-free and emission-free, so the flying taxi fits well with New Zealand’s sustainability objectives. In regard to the environment, Jacinda Arden has also said, “We’ve got an ambitious target in New Zealand of being net carbon neutral by 2050… exciting projects like this are part of how we make this happen.”

Cora is equipped with three flight computers that calculate the plane’s position. Kitty Hawk has said the air taxi has been designed to operate with ‘human oversight’. The aircraft is also fitted with parachutes in case of an emergency. Kitty Hawk isn’t the only company developing flying taxis, as at least 19 companies are working on their own versions. These include Airbus, Uber, Boeing and Volocopter.

If Kitty Hawk manages to launch Cora in New Zealand, there’s still the matter of getting people to actually use it. The air taxi’s path to the mainstream market may not be easy because people will need to be convinced that the machine is safe to fly in. There are many questions to think about, but one thing is for sure: the race for the first flying taxi service has well and truly begun.

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