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Larry Page's Flying Taxis, Now Exiting Stealth Mode (nytimes.com) 100

Google co-founder and Alphabet CEO Larry Page's autonomous flying taxi company Kitty Hawk on Tuesday unveiled its "fully electric, self-piloting flying taxi" called Cora. Since October, Cora has been seen moving through the skies over the South Island of New Zealand. It looks like a cross between a small plane and a drone, with a series of small rotor blades along each wing that allow it to take off like a helicopter and then fly like a plane. The New York Times reports: Now that project is about to go public: On Tuesday, Mr. Page's company and the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, will announce they have reached an agreement to test Kitty Hawk's autonomous planes as part of an official certification process. The hope is that it will lead to a commercial network of flying taxis in New Zealand in as soon as three years. The move is a big step forward in the commercialization of this technology, which even the most optimistic prognosticators had recently bet would take another decade to achieve. The decision to embrace the commercial use of flying taxis offers New Zealand an opportunity to leapfrog many developed countries in this area, and perhaps give it a head start over Silicon Valley, where much of the most innovative work has been taking place.
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Larry Page's Flying Taxis, Now Exiting Stealth Mode

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  • Excellent!!

    I WANT MY FLYING CAR ...even if I have to go to New Zealand to get it.

    • Its clearly an aircraft with non retractable wings that would get about 10 foot down a road before the wings collided with part of the scenery.

      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday March 13, 2018 @11:46AM (#56252571) Homepage

        The significance of that depends on how quiet they've gotten it. If you can have a helipad in your neighborhood, there's no need to "drive down the road". Generally, however, noise, pollution and safety constraints render that prohibitive.

        There's been some good research in reducing prop noise, however. One of my favourites is the use of props with an even number of blades, with the number of pairs at least two (aka, at least 4 blades), where the pairs are balanced within themselves but not evenly spaced around the axis. Normally, a prop with perfectly spaced blades sets up a wave where pressure rises as a blade approaches and declines as the blade leaves, with each subsequent blade passing at the exact same rate and amplifying the signal in a resonant fashion. But when pairs of blades are unevenly spaced, you're adding power at two or more different frequencies, so you don't get that buildup, and to the contrary, the waveforms disrupt each other.

        That's just an example (this craft doesn't appear to be using that specific one, as all of the props are just twin bladed - although they might achieve a similar net effect by offsetting the various props from each other). But there are a lot of different ways to reduce noise. It sure sounds quiet in the video. Obviously, since it lacks an ICE, that noise source is missing.

        Pollution obviously doesn't apply to it, as it's electric.

        As for the safety side, this craft looks to already be hitting all the right buttons. It could lose several motors / several props and keep flying just fine. It's battery powered (probably from multiple independent packs), too, so maintenance needs should be low and failure modes tame.

        I'm not saying that it's ready for prime time as a vehicle that can take off and land in a neighborhood. But at least some of the checkboxes appear to have been ticked. If it really is as quiet as that video makes it sound (which could just be how they edited it), and they've tackled safety correctly, it might well have all the boxes checked.

        (That said, I don't expect that, at least initially, to be their main market)

        • Looks like fun, any pictures of the Cockpit? I looked for numbers about the craft, nothing. Maybe Larry would like to Test Pilot his craft on a windy day?
          • Until they build several hundred copies that rack up at least a few million miles and a few hundreds of thousands of hours.

            Don't be the dude shaking out all the bugs.

        • If it really is as quiet as that video makes it sound...

          Okay, I give up, where did you find a video unadulterated with that horrible background music? Or is that the sound it makes?

        • The significance of that depends on how quiet they've gotten it.

          It ain't the noise. It's the debris, including parts of neighborhood pets and various other critters, being flung around with each takeoff.

          But that's not why you should forget it.
          You should forget it cause there is no way in the world for an "autonomous flying taxi" to know if its passengers are carrying flammable liquids and explosives in their bags, waiting for the "autonomous flying taxi" to fly over a large gathering of people or a building of some significance.

          Even 9/11 hijackers had to go to a flight

        • Wow!
          A post by someone who actually knows what he or she is talking about.
        • by Agripa ( 139780 )

          There's been some good research in reducing prop noise, however. One of my favourites is the use of props with an even number of blades, with the number of pairs at least two (aka, at least 4 blades), where the pairs are balanced within themselves but not evenly spaced around the axis. Normally, a prop with perfectly spaced blades sets up a wave where pressure rises as a blade approaches and declines as the blade leaves, with each subsequent blade passing at the exact same rate and amplifying the signal in a resonant fashion. But when pairs of blades are unevenly spaced, you're adding power at two or more different frequencies, so you don't get that buildup, and to the contrary, the waveforms disrupt each other.

          You can find tubeaxial fans which do that to reduce noise but usually with an odd number of blades. I found this out when trying to remove a blade to rebalance a rotor after a blade was lost until a replacement fan could be found and there were no opposite pairs and the spacing was irregular.

    • by stooo ( 2202012 )

      Use a bathtub.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

  • by Thud457 ( 234763 ) on Tuesday March 13, 2018 @10:47AM (#56252201) Homepage Journal
    New Zealand's not a realistic testbed, they only have two destinations, hobbitown and mt doom.
  • I had a discussion on another flying car on the AvWeek website a year or so ago where a company is testing their design in Southern California where there's no wild temperature swings/rain/snow/fog and they were hoping to get it certified but really didn't think about the weather elsewhere on the planet (or even the United States where the North East is getting it's third Blizzard in two weeks).

    I thought the weather in New Zealand was fairly benign, which I would think is a good starting point, but doesn't

    • by rossdee ( 243626 )

      "I thought the weather in New Zealand was fairly benign,"

      It will be interesting to see if they work in Wellington. (its like Pittsburgh but with strong winds)

      The 50th anniversary of the Wahine is next month.

      (Yeah i know TFS said The South Island)

      Also what happens if it hits a bird. Seagulls are common in NZ

      • its like Pittsburgh but with strong winds

        What the fuck? It isn't Chicago, but Pittsburgh already has some strong winds. Wellington must be crazy windy.

    • Southern California actually has all of those forms of weather, just not in the big cities. Plenty of mountains and deserts to test on if they wish. Regardless, though, it would make far more sense to handle easier conditions first. A flying car doesn't have to deliver emergency supplies to a siberian research team in a blizzard to be useful... and it doesn't have to be useful for you to be useful.

      • Mod parent up. It's funny that people outside California think California only consists of Silicon Valley, Los Angeles and San Diego. In under an hour you can be in the mountains or desert from almost any of those places. In many cases, you can be above the snow line.
      • by Chrisq ( 894406 )

        Southern California actually has all of those forms of weather, just not in the big cities. Plenty of mountains and deserts to test on if they wish.

        South Island of New Zealand has some impressive mountains [wikipedia.org]. Though it does not have large cities, Auckland is a reasonable size. Though it doesn't have much in the way of hot deserts (the Rangipo Desert [wikipedia.org] being a cold desert) it shouldn't be too difficult to get permission to test in the vast empty areas in Australia.

  • Flying cars (Score:5, Insightful)

    by esperto ( 3521901 ) on Tuesday March 13, 2018 @11:00AM (#56252279)
    We joke about when we will have flying cars, but in reality I don't understand why people really want it, at least with current technology.

    Those are expensive to operate, as the energy requirement to keep something afloat without it being as or less dense than the surrounding environment is quite big, they are incredibly noisy, need really good maintenance, as any incident can cause death of passengers and people around, which is expensive, and they cannot carry much, and this machine specifically has some limbs chopping propellers, which are just asking to be a major safety hazard with children and drunk people.
    We already have "flying cars" called helicopters, and they absurdly expensive and complicated machines, that only work for very wealthy people or business like offshore oil exploration, because the alternative is either very inconvenient, takes a lot more time, or can is even more expensive.

    • We keep giving more money to a handful of lucky winners. They've run out of things to spend their money on, so we get nonsense like this and Elon Musk launching a car into space (yes, I know it was a test launch, but do you honestly think you couldn't find some scientists that couldn't come up with the cash to put something better than a car into orbit?).
    • We already have "flying cars" called helicopters,

      No. If it's not a road-going automobile which can take off from at least the highway if not your driveway, it's not a flying car. Helicopters are just another kind of aircraft. They happen to have VTOL capabilities, but that certainly doesn't make them cars.

      and they absurdly expensive and complicated machines, that only work for very wealthy people or business like offshore oil exploration

      Actually, they are being phased out from things like oil exploration, because they are being replaced by drones. Some of those are singlecopters, but more of them are multicopters because they contain less failure-prone parts and if you're going to have

      • by Trogre ( 513942 )

        Fun fact: Multicopters and nearly all drones are still helicopters.

        • Fun fact: Multicopters and nearly all drones are still helicopters.

          Is there a single, tolerably compact word which describes a '
          'copter with a swash plate per main rotor, and for a singlecopter, a tail rotor or a tail rotor replacement like NOTAR? Because otherwise, I'm going to keep calling only those helicopters.

          • by Trogre ( 513942 )

            Well, not that I know of, but anything that uses a rotating helical wing (helix pteron) as its primary method of flight qualifies as a helicopter to me.

  • Technology was never the issue with flying cars but safety always was. After all if a car stalls you can pull over, if a plane stalls there's a real risk of you dying and crashing onto someones house or building. The other issue is efficiency. I'm sure VTOL designs use a tremendous amount of power to lift or and to land which means even if these were viable, they're going to be super expensive taxis.

    • Technology was never the issue with flying cars but safety always was

      While I agree that safety was/is a huge issue with them, the technology is a show stopper issue too. Since we lack Tony Stark's arc reactor we really don't have a power source with a power to weight ratio adequate to make a flying car a practical reality. There is no technology that is not science fiction that is going to make flying cars a reality nor is there any reasonable prospect of such a technology any time soon. This issue alone makes flying cars literally an impossibility.

      There also is the fact

      • by Anonymous Coward

        If you want to know just how ridiculous a flying car for the masses is, just go take an introductory flying lesson.

        Go through the preflight maintenance check list, the pre engine start check list, the pre taxi check list and then the pre take off checklist. And don't forget to file a flight plan. And the weather had better be Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited (CAVU) or else you will wind up like that Kennedy guy and his girl friend who had to fly into a cloud and ended up in a spin and at the bottom of the o

        • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Tuesday March 13, 2018 @12:53PM (#56253153)

          If you want to know just how ridiculous a flying car for the masses is, just go take an introductory flying lesson.

          Quite so. Even fully automating a vehicle's navigation and controls doesn't solve the problem. For aircraft to safely fly they have to have a rather rigorous level of inspection and maintenance, well beyond what most people are capable of (including myself).

          Then there is the ridiculous energy cost to flying. Trying to lift something the size of a car into the air will suck energy at a enormous rate.

          I get that the idea of a flying car is appealing but if you give it a few moment's thought it's a really dumb concept. It doesn't solve any burning problems, it's hugely expensive, the technology doesn't exist and likely never will, it's terrible for the environment, our infrastructure isn't designed for it, and it's dangerous.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          If you want to know just how ridiculous a flying car for the masses is, just go take an introductory flying lesson.

          Go through the preflight maintenance check list, the pre engine start check list, the pre taxi check list and then the pre take off checklist. And don't forget to file a flight plan. And the weather had better be Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited (CAVU) or else you will wind up like that Kennedy guy and his girl friend who had to fly into a cloud and ended up in a spin and at the bottom of the ocean.

          The inner ear balance mechanism doesn't work in a three dimensional environment.

          That Kennedy moron who failed his Bar exam multiple times killed himself, his wife and sister-in-law in the plane crash. Not his "girlfriend".

      • There also is the fact that our infrastructure is utterly unprepared for a flying car. Our parking lots and roads were not designed with 3 dimensions in mind.

        All the other objections are legit but this one is silly. It would be cheap and easy enough to add runways next to highways in some locations. Not everywhere, but in plenty of places. There's no point, because flying cars are insensible for the other reasons you mention.

        I think Elon Musk is correct that it's a LOT more practical to dig than to try to fly if we want to add a third dimension to our routine travel.

        That's arguably only 2.5 dimensional :) But also arguably enough.

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      Lift, yes. But land? In the right conditions they can actually gain power when landing.

      Note that VTOL is only used for takeoff; in level flight, the wing props stow aligned with the airflow and only the pusher prop drives the vehicle.

    • I'm sure VTOL designs use a tremendous amount of power to lift

      ... but only for a very short time. Once it transitions to forward flight, the power consumption goes way down.

      ... which means even if these were viable, they're going to be super expensive taxis.

      I don't think so. If you look at the videos and estimate the wingspan, there is no way this plane has a laden takeoff weight of over 2000 lbs (a Cessna weights about 1600 lbs fully fueled, and Cora looks significantly smaller). So figure 600 lb structure, 400 lb cargo/crew, and that leaves a 1000 lb battery. A 1000 lb battery will hold roughly 50 kwh of energy. 50 kwh * $0.10 = $5.

      They may in

    • Gyroplanes. Near-VTOL* with 100+ kph performance with snowblower engines. Impossible to stall. Bunting over nearly impossible with contemporary designs. Several companies have one and two seat models in production. Available today. Typically at a fraction of the cost of a 10 year old single seat monowing.

      *Some models need less than a 5 meter roll and can clear a 10 m obstacle in less than 15 m. All the dozen+ models I have looked at qualify as (Very) Short Take-Off and Landing aircraft.

      Google "gyroplane".

  • Well, at least all those billionaires will have the necessary convenience of flying taxis when they flee to their boltholes in New Zealand [theguardian.com] after sucking America dry.

    Where's Dr Charles Luther when the World really needs him?
    MNZGA!
  • by cascadingstylesheet ( 140919 ) on Tuesday March 13, 2018 @11:09AM (#56252341)
    Awesome. I can't wait to fly to work so I can snooze and occasionally push my one huge button.
    • by gnick ( 1211984 )

      I'm not sure the jobs of the future are going to center around making sprockets or cogs.

  • One had a low wing, one had a high wing. One would hope the high wing model will be the one to go into production if ground safety issues have anything to do with it. I really don't think many people will want to work around an aircraft with a dozen unsheilded lawnmower blades at waist height as there's always a small chance some kind of hardware or software error might make one spin up by mistake.

  • What a monstrous thing is that. There is a reason that helicopters have big main rotors: they are way more efficient than multiple smaller ones. Off course, the small quadcopters can get away with it because they are so small (the Square Cube Law: scaling down an aircraft decreases the weight faster than the wing or rotor surface that holds it in the air).

    The only positive thing is that in normal flight it uses wings, so it can glide in case of emergency, but it looks extremely vulnerable during take off an

    • by Viol8 ( 599362 )

      "as I cannot image these upward propellers to provide any useful autorotation"

      Presumably the thinking is that there are so many of them that the chances of all of them stopping at the same time are virtually nil. No doubt there is plenty of redundancy and a number could fail before the craft could no longer produce enough thrust to maintain lift.

      • Presumably the thinking is that there are so many of them that the chances of all of them stopping at the same time are virtually nil.

        But do they all run off the same battery? If so, that is still a single point of failure.

    • I actually thought the rather large vertical stabilizer was probably there so it could pitch up and auto-rotate down in the case of total failure (the inertia of the out runner motors might even allow a landing flair). I also wonder if it uses those rotors to provide some auto-rotation lift during normal operation (essentially reducing the wing loading). That would be quite smart, as otherwise they are just massive amounts of appendage drag.

      There are a lot of redundancy paths in this project. For rural tran

    • There's another thing. There are twelve of those little rotors, looking like blades from a motor mower. With no protection. What could possibly go wrong?
    • What a monstrous thing is that. There is a reason that helicopters have big main rotors: they are way more efficient than multiple smaller ones.

      The reason that helicopters have big main rotors is control. You don't need a computer to fly a helicopter, though it helps. A quadcopter can't be flown by a human. They can't manage the four throttles at once. It practically has to be done by a small (using VLSI) digital computer, which didn't exist when the helicopter was invented. (Although, having written this, it does seem like it's possible to create a quadcopter which doesn't use any microcontrollers, where the motor pairs are synchronized to one ano

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Tuesday March 13, 2018 @11:22AM (#56252425) Homepage
    sifting through flying car jokes in the comments section is whimsical, but as a millennial I wasnt promised flying cars in my future, i was promised a dystopian cyberpunk pesudo-utopia run by evil megacorps.

    i wont be happy until an army of these things are deployed to relocate cybernetic self-aware corgis to robo-france as part of an effort by UN-Bot-3000 to quell unrest surrounding the birth of a telepathic, 6-legged mario plumber from a haunted cyber-womb.
  • Great, just what we need. Stealth flying bombs.

    Hail one of these flying taxis, load a bomb in the passenger seat, tell it where to go. Smartphone triggers the bomb when GPS tells it "you have arrived at your destination".

    • Hail one of these flying taxis, load a bomb in the passenger seat, tell it where to go. Smartphone triggers the bomb when GPS tells it "you have arrived at your destination".

      You can already do that today. Just put your bomb in a Fedex package.

      • Commercial package shippers do things like running packages through a scanner or a chemical sniffer to prevent this exact problem. An air taxi won't have that kind of equipment on-board.

  • Hopefully Page keeps this company independent from Alphabet. I think it sounds really promising, but I would hate to see Google continue to expand its reach. Keeping this venture independent would allow more market diversity. This is what made me uneasy about Google's autonomous vehicles. By allowing them in every facet of our lives, we're allowing for some scary data mining, especially when governments compel them to share those data.

  • by OneHundredAndTen ( 1523865 ) on Tuesday March 13, 2018 @12:45PM (#56253069)
    More of the usual nonsense: a ridiculous, tiny airplane with folding wings. That's not a flying car. Flying cars, as they are generally envisioned (think Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, etc.) obviously rely on technologies that we do not currently have, and that we are not likely to have this century. By insisting in calling these silly things "flying cars", the manufacturers are bound to Segway themselves - those of us who have been around for a while remember the Segway, a device that was bound to revolutionize transportation. We also remember thinking, "This piece of junk is going to revolutionize transportation?" as it was unveiled.
  • I can't wait for these to come off lease, or start showing up for sale at Goodwill.
  • by Shotgun ( 30919 ) on Tuesday March 13, 2018 @03:24PM (#56254357)

    The FAA requires flights in the US to be planned to have a minimum of 30 minutes of fuel remaining at the end of the flight for Day VFR operations. 45 minutes for night or IFR flights. The requirement is there for a reason, as running out of fuel is a consistently high ranking cause of accidents. In my Zenith Zodiac 601XL, which has approximately the same performance as this vehicle, it is generally around 15 minutes between arriving at an airport and getting it on the ground. Setting up in the pattern for a coordinated landing with the other traffic actually takes time.

    This thing cruises at 93mph, and has a 62mile range....somewhere around 40 minutes of flight time.

    To fly across the city, say 20 miles, there is going to be several minutes of climb out, and something on the order of 15 minutes of en route time. Every landing would have to be an emergency declaration disrupting any traffic pattern.

  • I am certain the reason they are testing here in New Zealand is the complete lack of regulatory control around drones. The very same reason that the Chinese launch low orbit rockets from here. So what may work here probably wouldn't fly in other countries.

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