Wisk, New Zealand Government Partner for Autonomous Air Taxi Trials

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【Summary】Wisk and New Zealand’s government have established a Memorandum of Understanding to introduce a passenger transport trial with an autonomous air taxi called Cora.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Feb 10, 2020 10:00 AM PT
Wisk, New Zealand Government Partner for Autonomous Air Taxi Trials

Autonomous, flying taxis may seem like their decades away. But they're much closer than one might think. So close, in fact, that a few companies are already looking to bring a introduce a trial with a self-flying aircraft to light. Wisk, a joint venture between Kitty Hawk and Boeing, has established a Memorandum of Understanding with the New Zealand government to conduct a trial using its autonomous and electric flying taxi called Cora. The trial will include real passengers.

World's First Autonomous Air Taxi Trial

The passenger trial will take place in Canterbury, a region that's located on New Zealand's southern island. While Wisk has received the go-ahead from the government for its trial, the company will need to receive the proper certification for its self-flying aircraft from the New Zealand Civic Aviation Authority before Cora can spread to the skies.

Wisk may seem like a new name that's coming out of nowhere, but it's been around for quite some time. Kitty Hawk, a flying-car company that was predominantly funded by Google co-founder Larry Page and run by Sebastian Thrun, was formed in 2010. Thrun may sound familiar because he's credited with launching Google's autonomous car arm. Kitty Hawk's vehicles include the Cora, an electric flying taxi with two seats, and the Flyer, a one-person flying boat.

How Wisk Came To Be

Before 2016, Kitty Hawk was operating secretly, and it wasn't until 2018 when the company announced that it would partner with Air New Zealand to introduce a flying taxi service. This is where Boeing comes into the mix. Kitty Hawk didn't have the expertise to manufacture the Cora, but Boeing did, which made for an excellent partnership. Boeing was already working on its own VTOL aircraft and we're sure the company expertise came in handy for Kitty Hawk's machine.

The companies are looking to introduce a service that's similar to modern ride-sharing programs, but for the air. Presumably, consumers will use an app on a smartphone to summon a flying taxi. The vehicle will land, most likely on top of a building or another safe area, and then take passengers to their destination. Instead of an actual pilot, the vehicle will fly autonomously and have a remote human pilot supervising every trip.

New Zealand seems like an odd place for an autonomous flying aircraft trial, but the country's small size, approachable government, and interest in trying a new method to ferry passengers could make it the first spot to make flying a realistic method of getting around. Wisk isn't the only company looking to the sky. Uber has its Elevate program, Hyundai recently introduced a flying taxi, Bell showcased a Nexus flying car prototype recently, and Airbus has a program called Voom in the pipeline.

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