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Kitty Hawk shifts gears on flying-car plans

California-based Kitty Hawk, the flying-car venture backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, says it’s winding down its Flyer project, which created an ultralight aircraft designed to fly over water.

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Boeing and Kitty Hawk reboot flying car venture

Cora flying taxi
The Boeing-Kitty Hawk joint venture known as Wisk will focus on development of an electric-powered air taxi known as Cora. (Wisk Photo)

The partnership that Boeing and Google co-founder Larry Page’s Kitty Hawk venture forged to develop personal air vehicles has been reorganized and rebranded as a joint venture with a new name: Wisk.

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Boeing and Porsche target flying-car market

Concept car for urban air mobility
Boeing and Porsche will asses the market for a premium urban air mobility vehicle. (Boeing Illustration)

Boeing and Porsche say they’ve signed a memorandum of understanding to explore the premium air mobility market and the potential for extending urban traffic into airspace. In short, they’re thinking about offering a flying sports car.

Both companies made clear that their joint efforts are only in the concept phase.

“Porsche is looking to enhance its scope as a sports car manufacturer by becoming a leading brand for premium mobility. In the longer term, this could mean moving into the third dimension of travel,” Detlev von Platen, member of the executive board for sales and marketing at Porsche AG in Germany, said today in a news release. “We are combining the strengths of two leading global companies to address a potential key market segment of the future.”

The collaboration serves as a sign that Boeing is serious about getting involved in the urban air mobility market, whether you call the vehicles that serve that market flying cars, air taxis or personal electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicles (known as eVTOLs for short).flyi

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Voom helicopter service expands to Bay Area

Voom helicopter service
Voom works with third-party helicopter operators and helipads to deliver on-demand service. (Voom Photo)

Voom has officially extended its app-based, on-demand helicopter service to the San Francisco Bay Area, confirming that the Airbus subsidiary is now active in the United States as well as in Brazil and Mexico.

Today’s announcement comes months after initial reports that the San Francisco-based venture was beta-testing its service in the Bay Area.

Customers can now use Voom’s app or website to book trips with connections to five Bay Area airports: Napa, Oakland, Palo Alto, San Francisco and San Jose. Prices start at $215, and a quick check of the website shows that the per-seat fare for a trip from San Francisco to San Jose is $285.

That’s significantly more than an Uber or taxi fare, but Voom is counting on customers to put a higher value on their time.

“Our service will make it easy and affordable for business travelers to travel quickly from locations such as the San Francisco airport to San Jose in only 20 minutes, rather than sitting in traffic for hours trying to get to a meeting,” Voom CEO Clement Monnet said in a news release.

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Lift Aircraft reports progress on Hexa flight tests

Jeff Bezos in Lift Aircraft's Hexa
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos tries out the seat in Lift Aircraft’s Hexa ultralight during Amazon’s MARS conference in March. (Lift Aircraft Photo)

It’s been nine months since Lift Aircraft announced its plan to field an 18-rotor, electric-powered copter for fun flights, and nearly six months since the company’s Hexa aircraft shared a photo op with Jeff Bezos at Amazon’s MARS conference — but Lift’s CEO says the Hexa project is still on track to take on its first customers by the end of this year.

Matt Chasen, a veteran of the startup world and a former Boeing engineer, says his company is planning to offer the first round of trial flights in its headquarters city of Austin, Texas.

The original idea was to take the Hexa, which will be classified as a powered ultralight aircraft by the Federal Aviation Administration, on a 25-city tour.

“Securing great places to fly in each city is not super easy but we’re planning to go to LA, SF and SD [Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego] in the first few months of next year, and will likely time our tour through Seattle for summer,” Chasen said in an email.

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Voom’s Seattle office redefines working remotely

Voom helicopter service
Voom, a subsidiary of Airbus, offers helicopter booking services in Brazil and Mexico. (Airbus Photo)

Add the Airbus subsidiary Voom to the list of tech startups with engineering centers in the Seattle area — and to the list of pioneers in co-located and distributed workplaces.

Both of those talking points are highlighted in a blog posting on working remotely, written last month by Robert Head, a senior software engineer at Voom. The posting was brought to light today by the Puget Sound Business Journal.

The California-based startup has been offering its app-based, on-demand helicopter taxi service in Mexico City and São Paulo, and last month it stealthily expanded its trials to the San Francisco Bay Area in league with Coastal Helicopters.

In his blog posting, Head, who works remotely from Ashland, Ore., talked about software development rather than flight plans. “When Voom decided to grow our own internal team of developers, we chose to locate the office not in San Francisco or Silicon Valley, but rather in Seattle, which has a similarly booming technology scene and an ecosystem of great talent,” he wrote.

Today LinkedIn lists 16 Voom employees as working in the Seattle area, and the company’s careers webpage has seven openings for Seattle workers, including a spot for a vice president of engineering. But the point of Head’s posting wasn’t how Voom conducts its operations in Seattle. Instead, he focused on how the Seattle office serves as a springboard for a far more widely dispersed team.

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Uber shows off its latest concept for air taxis

Uber says it’s on track to start flying its first all-electric air taxis on a demonstration basis next year, with commercial service due to begin in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Los Angeles areas in 2023.

It’s also planning to focus on Australia’s tech capital, Melbourne, as its first international air taxi market. That’s a change from previous plans, which looked instead in Dubai’s direction.

To give potential riders an idea of what they’ll be climbing into, the rideshare company took the occasion of its annual Uber Elevate conference in Washington, D.C., to show off a mockup of the aircraft’s passenger cabin and a new video.

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GoFly Prize spotlights five flying machines

Trek Aerospace FlyKart 2
Trek Aerospace’s FlyKart 2 personal aerial vehicle has 10 ducted propellers and is custom-designed to meet the GoFly challenge’s specifications. (Trek Aerospace Illustration)flyinddd

Five teams from around the world have risen to new heights in the GoFly Prize competition, a $2 million-plus contest backed by Boeing to encourage the development of personal flying machines.

The Phase II contest winners, unveiled today in connection with the SAE AeroTech Americas conference in Charleston, S.C., will receive $50,000 prizes and the chance to compete for the $1 million grand prize in a future fly-off.

“Now we can unequivocally say we will be able to make people fly within the next one to two years,” Gwen Lighter, GoFly’s CEO and founder, told GeekWire in advance of the announcement.

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Zeva builds flying saucer to take aim at GoFly Prize

Zero air vehicle
An artist’s conception shows Team Zeva’s Zero personal air vehicle in flight. (Zeva Illustration)

Team Zeva’s entry in the Boeing-backed $2 million GoFly Prize competition looks like a flying saucer that’s built for one — but there’s method behind the science-fiction madness.

“That’s typically the comment that it draws: ‘It looks like a flying saucer,’ ” the leader of the Tacoma, Wash.-based team, Stephen Tibbitts, told GeekWire. “What drove us to the shape is, we knew we wanted to maximize our wing area in the space allotted.”

The GoFly Prize was established in 2017 to encourage innovation in the development of personal air vehicles. The rules state that teams must design one-person flying machines that are capable of making vertical or near-vertical takeoffs and taking 20-mile area trips, all without refueling or recharging.

The machines can be jetpacks, or flying motorcycles, or giant quadcopters, but all of the hardware has to fit within an 8.5-foot-wide sphere. In Team Zeva’s view, a flying saucer makes the most use of that volume.

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Boeing’s passenger air vehicle makes debut

Passenger air vehicle
Boeing’s passenger air vehicle takes flight at a testing ground in Manassas, Va. (Boeing Photo)

Boeing says it has successfully completed the first test flight of a prototype for its autonomous passenger air vehicle, which could start carrying riders as early as next year.

The test was executed on Jan. 22 at an airport in Manassas, Va., near the headquarters of Aurora Flight Sciences, the Boeing subsidiary that’s been developing the electric-powered, vertical takeoff-and-landing aircraft, also known as an eVTOL craft. Boeing NeXt, the business unit that leads Boeing’s urban air mobility efforts, is in charge of the test program.

The uncrewed flight lasted less than a minute and involved a controlled takeoff, hover and landing. The maneuvers were designed to test the prototype’s autonomous functions and ground control systems. A test dummy was strapped inside the cockpit for the ride.

Boeing said future flights will test forward, wing-borne flight, as well as the transition phase between vertical flight and forward flight. That transition is considered the most challenging mode for high-speed eVTOL aircraft.

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