Google co-founder Larry Page apparently hasn’t given up on his goal to build a flying car. His desire to build a flying car first surfaced in 2010 when rumors connected him to a Silicon Valley startup called Zee.Aero. But according to Bloomberg, Page didn’t think the Zee.Aero team was progressing quickly enough, so last year he funded a competing startup company called Kitty Hawk. Bloomberg‘s extensive report details the progress on both companies.
Zee.Aero was a bit of a mystery when it first opened its doors. Then details began surfacing, uncovering the startup’s purpose and connection to Larry Page. For starters, Zee.Aero’s factory is located on prime real estate next to Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Then, a patent filed by Zee.Aero showed details of a small, all-electric aircraft with the capability of vertical take-offs and landings. Now, Bloomberg has interviewed a number of insiders and former Zee.Aero employees who confirmed that Page has invested millions of his own money into the company and is hiring talent from the aerospace and automotive industry to make his flying car dream a reality. Bloomberg claims Page has spent $100 million on Zee.Aero alone and is eager to invest more in Kitty Hawk.
Zee.Aero prototypes have been spotted numerous times throughout the Bay Area. The San Francisco Chronicle in 2013, for example, published reader-submitted photos of a strange aircraft prototype found at a local airbase that closely resembled the Zee.Aero patent designs (above). The prototype featured a narrow body with front and rear wings, and rows of horizontal propellers running alongside the body. The prototype appeared too small to fit any passengers.
According to Bloomberg, Zee.Aero scrapped that design last year and gained a new CEO, Eric Allison, who moved up from his position as the company’s chief engineer. Allison replaced Ilan Kroo, a Stanford aeronautics professor who helped launch Zee.Aero. Since then, Zee.Aero has developed and begun testing two new prototypes at the Hollister Municipal Airport located south of San Jose. Bloomberg interviewed a number of airport employees who caught glimpses of the prototypes and claim that one looks like a normal aircraft. The second prototype reportedly has rotors running along the body, likely for vertical take-off and landing maneuvers.
Bloomberg claims Page began funding Kitty Hawk around the time Zee.Aero went through its CEO shakeup. The Kitty Hawk team apparently includes Zee.Aero veterans and previous employees from Google’s self-driving car project. Speaking of which, Bloomberg points out that while Zee.Aero and Kitty Hawk are funded by Page, they are not affiliated with Google. Page apparently feels strongly about flying cars and envisions them becoming a reality in his lifetime.
Obviously Page isn’t the only entrepreneur attempting to launch a flying car. Terrafugia, for example, continues work on what it calls a street-legal airplane, while Joby Aviation is another competitor whose CEO, JoeBen Bevirt, is also a wealthy entrepreneur from Silicon Valley. And while not exactly a flying car, a passenger drone from Chinese company EHang has garnered plenty of attention.
Illustrations courtesy of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office