We’re a long ways from flying cars. However, personal aviation seems to be something quite personal to Google co-founder Larry Page and he’s invested hundreds of millions in two companies that are trying to make “flying cars” a reality. Ever since I first saw the 1965 film “Thunderball” in the late 70s(?), I figured I would have a jet pack taking me to work when I grew up..I still don’t have a jet pack and now we’re talking about “flying cars?”
Page puts big money in Zee.Aero and Kitty Hawk
Zee.Aero began its life as a a startup in 2010 with offices quite literally next door to Google’s Mountain View, CA headquarters. For good reason, many immediately questioned whether or not it was a Google-owned property as the search giant controls the land in the neighborhood with a firm grip. While not associated with Google or its parent company Alphabet on the books, its existence is due to the personal fascination with aviation and over $100 million in funding from the checkbook of Larry Page who along with Sergei Brin founded Google when they attended Stanford University (which is in the news for very different reasons this week).
While the money to start Zee.Aero dates back over six years, Page’s investment in Kitty Hawk came just last year and shows the level of fascination Page has with personal aviation (I’m going to ditch “flying cars” now). Despite the fact that Page is backing both companies, don’t expect any cooperation between them. In fact, Page’s investments have essentially guaranteed a forced sequestering of one from the other with a mandate to work on their own projects separately which is a touch ironic because if either of them ever produced the personal planes they are working you could probably still walk between the offices of the two companies quicker than flying assuming safety measures generally associated with flight are observed.
Zee.Aero testing flying cars
Zee.Aero is already test flying prototypes about 50 miles from the Google headquarters and has over 150 employees on the books including a number of engineers that were snagged from the ranks of NASA, SpaceX, Tesla and Boeing meaning flight is certainly foremost in the company’s eyes. Reports and rumors have Zee.aero working a “small conventional plane” that seats two and another two seater that has propellers all over the sides suggesting, like the patent filed in 2012, that its designed to enjoy vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities with a focus on delivering a “safe, quiet, easy to control, efficient and compact aircraft.”
So once again no more “flying car” use from me.
Kitty Hawk’s work is independent
Kitty Hawk is, of course, a nod to the North Carolina town whose hills are credited with the Wright Brothers “invention” of the airplane. Kitty Hawk is considerably smaller than Zee.Aero with many of its engineers coming from AeroVelo, the company that won the $250,000 Sikorsky Prize for its work with a human-powered helicopter in 2013. As Sikorsky is credited with the invention of the helicopter, Kitty Hawk is most likely working on some sort of personal quad-copter airplane hybrid.
Whether any of the vehicle being designed, built and tested function as cars as well, like the personal aircraft/car hybrids being worked on by Volocopter and Aeromobil among others is anyone’s guess.
Page seems to be following the likes of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk in using his fortune made elsewhere to move into transportation, albeit with a more “earthbound” approach…well, at least he’s staying within the Earth’s atmosphere.
“What appears in the next 5 to 10 years will be incredible”
While it’s a well-known “secret” that Page is the money man behind Zee.Aero, employees still don’t refer to him by name but rather as GUS (the guy upstairs). The president of Zee.Aero, according to regulatory filings last year, is the founder of the research division Google X and a driving force behind Google’s self-driving cars, Sebastian Thrun. Neither Thrun or Page have opted to speak about Zee.Aero on the record in over six years.
A Frenchman recently shattered the world record for hoverboard flight and its clear that flying is what we all still want to do on our own or at least without the TSA involved.
Mark Moore, an aeronautical engineer who has spent the bulk of his career at NASA believes that the aforementioned two companies funded by Page are at the forefront of revolutionizing personal aviation. He recently told Bloomberg that “Over the past five years, there have been these tremendous advances in the underlying technology. He added, “What appears in the next 5 to 10 years will be incredible.”