Picture Credit: San Francisco Chronicle
Waaay back in July 19, 2010, Google assigned a “priority date” to its July 19, 2011 filing (WO2012012474 A3) and a subsequent one on February 13, 2013 patent filing (US20130214086 A1) for “a personal aircraft (that is) a safe, quiet, easy to control, efficient, and compact aircraft configuration is enabled through the combination of multiple vertical lift rotors, tandem wings, and forward thrust propellers. Then in January 2012, bicyclist Thomas Shepard notices something odd: “2700 Broderick Way in Mountain View is a completely unmarked building, the home of Aero Zee. http://www.zee.aero/ Can you say stealth? The web site talks about vehicle autonomy, advanced aerodynamics, and electric propulsion. Vehicle autonomy and intelligent control have to do with the world of sensors, robotics, computational reasoning, Darpa,” Then, in November 2013, The San Francisco Chronicle spotted the Zee Aero 1 on a tarmac close to (the then) Google’s HQ and crowed, “Forget self-driving cars. How about flying ones? Reports have emerged of what appears to be a mysterious airborne vehicle being developed by a stealth company operating near Google’s Mountain View headquarters.”
Almost four years on, Zee Aero is hiring manufacturing and control systems engineers for Google co-founder Larry Page’s pet project:
Based in the heart of Silicon Valley, Zee is developing a revolutionary new form of transportation. Working at the intersection of aerodynamics, advanced manufacturing, and electric propulsion, we provide a stimulating environment where creative employees can explore new challenges. If you have expertise in aircraft design, electric power systems, active control, machine learning, aeroacoustics, composite structures, or systems integration, let’s talk.
Source: Zee Aero- A sketch from one of Zee.Aero’s patent filings of a personal flying aircraft
Competitor TerraFugia seeking funding at IndieGoGo for a “roadable aircraft” prototyped in 2009, and you can “reserve” a Transition for a $10K refundable deposit: “Terrafugia’s mission is to create practical flying cars that enable a new dimension of personal freedom. Terrafugia (ter-ra-FOO-gee-ah) is derived from the Latin for “Escape the Earth”. We’re Driven to Fly.™”Here’s a video of the exciting craft.
The Zee Aero personal car is a battery powered, vertical lift vehicle that fits into a conventional parking space. The Chronicle continued, “Zee.Aero was founded in 2010, according to Delaware corporation records, and Ilan Kroo, a noted professor of aeronautics, has been on partial leave from Stanford since 2011 to run the company. He holds the aforementioned patent, among others, and has worked for NASA.” And in November 2013, Professor Kroo stated, “As you gathered, I am working on some interesting transportation ideas at an early stage start-up company in Mt. View (near Google and other tech companies, but not affiliated with them).” There are a gaggle of Google filed patents, however…
On Saturday, The Mercury News reported the Zee Areo VL vehicle was spotted (picture will not load). Google co-founder Larry Page was acknowledged as personally funding a pair of startups devoted to creating flying cars, according to Bloomberg Businessweek in June 2016 (Zee Aero in 2010 at a $100M cost so far and Kitty Hawk started in 2015 by Google X founder Sebastian Thurn). Here’s what is known:
- Zee.Aero now employs close to 150 people. Its operations have expanded to an airport hangar in Hollister, about a 70-minute drive south from Mountain View, where a pair of prototype aircraft takes regular test flights. The company also has a manufacturing facility on NASA’s Ames Research Center campus at the edge of Mountain View.
- Kitty Hawk, began operations and registered its headquarters to a two-story office building on the end of a tree-lined cul-de-sac about a half-mile away from Zee’s offices. Kitty Hawk’s staffers, sequestered from the Zee.Aero team, are working on a competing design. Its president, according to 2015 business filings, was Sebastian Thrun, the godfather of Google’s self-driving car program and the founder of research division Google X.
Picture Credit: Airbus A3’s Vahana
The European aerospace giant Airbus recently unveiled its secret flying-car project dubbed Vahana — a single-manned, autonomously piloted aircraft that can take off and land vertically. The concept drawing of Vahana should look familiar to anyone who follows the tiny-but-passionate flying car movement. The aircraft has eight rotors on two sets of wings, both of which tilt depending on whether the car’s flying vertically or horizontally. There’s room for a single passenger under a canopy that retracts like a visor. The project launched in early 2016 as one of the first pursuits of A³ (pronounced A-cubed), the Silicon Valley arm of Airbus, according to the startup’s CEO Rodin Lyasoff. Vahana is a Sanskrit word that refers to the vehicle or mount of a god.
A3 is clearly dedicated to disruptive innovation as it declares in its mission: “We believe that the future is created through episodic disruption with intervening periods of incremental innovation. Our mission is to build the future of flight now, by disrupting Airbus Group and its competitors before someone else does.” This is getting interesting, Boy Elroy! (Jetsons hat tip video here)