Larry Page's flying taxi startup Kittyhawk calls it a day
More proof, if it were needed, that not everything connected to Google is gold
"If anyone can do this, we can," burbles air taxi startup Kittyhawk's homepage, which may now need an update since the company has announced it is to cease operations.
In a terse note on Twitter yesterday, it said: "We have made the decision to wind down Kittyhawk. We're still working on the details of what's next."
The company is significant to the "flying car" pipe dream in that it was founded in 2010 by computer scientist Sebastian Thrun, who also started the Google X R&D outfit and Google self-driving car project, now known as Waymo. Google co-founder Larry Page directly funded the concept.
Kittyhawk's last publicly released all-electric VTOL aircraft was able to take off, fly, and land completely autonomously "on a small landing pad only slightly larger than its wingspan."
"It is ultra-quiet and battery-efficient, flying hundreds of miles on a single charge and is almost inaudible within 30 seconds of takeoff," the company's website says.
"Inspired by that, we're now working on a next-gen commercial design. Our ambitions for the next-generation aircraft are even bolder. We're reinventing the future of aviation by applying modern technology to traditional aviation principles to reimagine advanced air mobility. We're building flying vehicles that are affordable, autonomous and ubiquitous."
Obviously, these plans are now on hold. Kittyhawk's first commercial aircraft could only carry one passenger, monitored by a ground operator, which the company played off as a positive, saying "no pooling with strangers." It aimed for $1-per-mile air travel, cheaper than calling an Uber.
However, Kittyhawk was in a joint venture with Boeing called Wisk Aero, which is also attempting to bring a flying taxi to market capable of carrying up to four passengers. The aviation giant has invested $450 million in the endeavor.
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A Boeing spokesperson told Bloomberg: "Kittyhawk's decision to cease operations does not change Boeing's commitment to Wisk. We are proud to be a founding member of Wisk Aero and are excited to see the work they are doing to drive innovation and sustainability through the future of electric air travel."
It could be that Kittyhawk's backers ultimately saw Wisk, where the former company's technology lives on, as the better bet.
The air taxi is a tough nut to crack. Numerous companies are trying – Archer Aviation, Beta Technologies, Eve Urban Air Mobility, Joby Aviation, and Vertical Aerospace to name a few – but, as with any flying machine, regulators must be involved.
Wisk's Cora "established the world's first [Federal Aviation Authority] certification basis for passenger-carrying, remote-piloting aircraft" in 2018, though next-generation vehicles have yet to be approved.
Infrastructure has also proved to be a blind spot. Flying taxis, especially those claimed to be autonomous, need to be integrated with existing air traffic and have specific places to land near to where the passenger wants to go.
What's the point when your emissions-free, electric VTOL taxi lands 70 miles from where you want to be? You'd then need a regular taxi, and heaven forbid it runs on fossil fuels. ®