Alphabet CEO and Google co-founder Larry Page has invested $100m of his personal wealth in a secretive flying car start-up called Zee.Aero. He is also understood to be backing a competing flying car firm called Kitty Hawk.
Zee.Aero has filed a patent for an electric vehicle that can take off and land vertically.
Kitty Hawk is rumoured to be working on a drone-like quadcopter that can transport people.
While the idea of flying cars may conjure up scenes from Back to the Future 2 there is no doubt that it will open a Pandora’s box of safety issues and aviation rules.
That said, this week, the US state of Nevada gave Chinese company Ehang permission to trial an autonomous drone that can transport humans.
The Ehang 184 personal quadcopter is expected to take to the skies later this year. Ehang has raised $52m in funding to date.
According to Bloomberg, Zee.Aero employees have been given cards with instructions on how to deflect questions from the media.
It is understood that Page has been funding Zee.Aero since 2010 and the company now employs 150 people who work in a 30,000 sq ft building in Hollister, California, about an hour’s drive from the Alphabet HQ in Mountain View.
Zee.Aero also has a manufacturing facility on NASA’s Ames Research Center campus at the edge of Mountain View.
Flying cars no longer a nerd’s fantasy?
Flying cars aren’t exactly new, but they were never feasible and were usually the domain of lone-wolf inventors.
However, with the increased sophistication of drone technology, which is married to GPS and a plethora of stabilisation technologies, the idea of flying vehicles has been given fresh impetus.
The idea of skies filled with drones carrying people across cityscapes, from rooftop to rooftop, and over long distances in a coordinated and safe way, may no longer be science fiction.
It is understood that Zee.Aero has been hiring some of the brightest young aerospace engineers, software engineers and experts in motor and battery hardware from SpaceX, NASA and Boeing.
The company is understood to be led by Stanford aerospace professor Ilan Kroo, who wrote an original patent No. 9,242,738 for a one-seater aircraft festooned with horizontal propellers.
It is understood that under CEO Eric Allison, Zee.Aero has finessed the project to a more conventional-looking design.
Witnesses who have seen the aircraft in flight describe two machines: one that looks like a conventional plane but with propellors front and back; and another that has three horizontal propellers on either side.
When the aircraft take off they sound like air raid sirens, but that could be just a safety precaution.
It is understood that Page purposely keeps the Zee.Aero and Kitty Hawk teams apart to ensure a competitive pace.
As Bloomberg reports, Page wants the flying car future, and he wants it now. It’s like something from The Jetsons.
Flying car concept image via Shutterstock