Asia-Pacific

Self-piloted 'flying taxi' trialled in NZ

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A California-based company, personally financed by Google co-founder Larry Page, has unveiled an autonomous "air taxi" in Christchurch, New Zealand, with an eye on revolutionising personal air travel within the next decade.

Described as a cross between a plane and a drone, the self-piloted electric aircraft has been making secret test flights in New Zealand since October. 

The company Kitty Hawk, which operates as Zephyr Airworks in New Zealand, this week showed off what it hopes will be the first commercially viable self-piloted "air taxi". 

"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," Christchurch's mayor Lianne Dalziel said in a statement.

"This is a fully electric aircraft that rises into the air like a helicopter, flies like a plane and then lands again like a helicopter," she explained.

Cora can carry two passengers.
Cora can carry two passengers.
Supplied

The aircraft has been developed by Kitty Hawk, which is run by Sebastian Thrun, who previously led the development of Google's self-driving cars as director of Google X.

The combination of electric power, self-piloting software and vertical take-off pioneers a new way to fly.

"Cora is the beginning of a journey towards everyday flight, where air travel will be woven into our daily lives," the creators said in a statement.

While Kitty Hawk isn't putting a timeframe around when Cora will be available for public flights, Zephyr Airworks boss Fred Reid told local media there was "a really good shot of doing this in the relatively short future" and was striving to have limited services operating in New Zealand in the next three to six years.

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