Friday, July 20, 2018

"Larry Page is quietly amassing a ‘flying car’ empire"

From The Verge. Jult 19:

Google co-founder revealed to be owner of Opener, a Canadian startup that just came out of stealth

One flying car seems absurd; Larry Page has three.

He started with Cora, a two-seater flying taxi, then added a sporty flying boat called Flyer, both developed by a company called Kitty Hawk. And last week, The Verge discovered a third: Opener, which just came out of stealth mode. There was no mention of the Google co-founder in the startup’s announcement, but when confronted with evidence of Page’s involvement, Opener quickly issued a press release admitting it.

Flying cars (more formally known as eVTOLs — for electric vertical takeoff and landing) are the electric scooters of aviation. Everyone from Uber to Airbus is working to build the lightweight aircraft and the aerial networks they will require, to say nothing of a host of well-funded startups, including Joby in the US, Volocopter in Germany, and China’s EHang.

Kitty Hawk and Opener are based just a few buildings away from each other in Palo Alto, California, but have almost no contact. In fact, their CEOs have to compete for Page’s attention and funding, according to multiple sources close to the companies.

Workers at Kitty Hawk and Opener don’t know whether Page is simply hedging his bets with multiple aircraft, or embarking on a bold attempt to corner the market for flying cars as it emerges. The reason for multiple companies may be even more prosaic: the leaders of each project reportedly can’t stand each other. Regardless, Page now controls three of the world’s most advanced flying car projects, ahead of rivals like Joby, Uber, and aerospace giant Airbus, whose vehicles remain largely experimental.

Page’s involvement in the field started with a small company called Levt Inc, founded in 2010 by Stanford aeronautics professor Ilan Kroo. Kroo was one of the first to realize that advances in lightweight airframe materials, computer control, and electric batteries and motors could enable small self-flying electric aircraft. 

Here’s the pitch: air taxis would be much quieter, and theoretically much safer, than traditional helicopters. What’s more, they could take off (and land in) from smaller spots, such as domestic driveways or parking garages. Supporters say that flying taxis could relieve congestion on crowded city roads, though the risk anyone under them faces is still unknown....MUCH MORE