Are Self-Flying Cars on the Horizon?

Bloomberg Businessweek reported on Thursday that Google cofounder Larry Page is currently working with two startups based in the Silicon Valley to develop a flying car. One of the startups, a Mountain View neighbor to Google called Zee.Aero, has been personally funded by Page since its launch in 2010. The firm has allegedly filed a patent application for a small-sized, all-electric vehicle that could take off from the ground and then land.

flying car2Page has reportedly invested over $100 million in Zee.Aero to date, enabling the company to hire almost 150 employees and expand its operations into an airport hangar in Hollister, California. Prototypes are being developed and tested currently and a manufacturing facility has been built at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View.

And Zee.Aero is only one piece of the puzzle. Page also personally backed a flying car startup called Kitty Hawk last year. Kitty Hawk is operating just down the street from Zee.Aero, though allegedly the companies are not collaborating on efforts to develop a flying car and are instead competing to create better designs.

Kitty Hawk’s leader is Sebastian Thrun, head of the self-driving car program at Google and founder of the research division of Google called Google X.

While flying cars may seem like a setting-creating accessory in futuristic shows like the Jetsons or novels likeĀ A Brave New World, Kevin Krewell of Tirias Research may have put it best when he said, “We live in an era of science fiction.”

“We have universal translators, private rockets to space, cars that can drive themselves, drones,” he continued. “We’re just missing that darn flying car we were promised- but I’d prefer a jet pack over a flying car.”

Krewell makes a good point; in our rapidly developing technological era, it seems there’s no way of overreaching what’s possible, especially when experienced tech company founders set their minds to it.

“Page would like to extend the ability to fly beyond traditional airfields to streets and parking lots,” said Krewell. “The traffic in the Bay Area has gotten really bad in recent years with the explosive growth of local companies like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Apple, and I fully understand his wish to rise up above the crowded freeways.”

flying car3However, much like the creation of EVs and autonomous cars, the switch from ground-based and flying cars would involve more than making it possible to launch a car into the air; entirely new infrastructure would need to be built through collaboration of both the public and private sectors.

“The automobile was, of course, a horseless carriage,” observed one futurist. “It was a big change, but really a change in degree, not kind- and you could use the same roads,” he continued. “The flying car, on the other hand, will require new infrastructure. Even if it is vertical takeoff and landing, that’s going to mean new landing pads everywhere.”

The cars will also be self-driving, apparently, which seems like a good idea. As Paul Teich of Tirias Research pointed out, “People have enough difficulty driving on a fixed road infrastructure in 2.5 dimensions- counting landspace topography as half of a dimensions- so that is why we need insurance, and far too often police, fire, and EMS response teams.”

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