Kitty Hawk, a Silicon Valley aviation technology startup, introduced its newest aircraft earlier this week, adding yet another eVTOL concept into the increasingly crowded urban air mobility market.
The Palo Alto-based startup, backed by Alphabet’s co-founder Larry Page, presented the one-seat Heaviside, an eight-rotor electric-powered aircraft. Kitty Hawk is one of at least two dozen companies whose air-taxi concepts are designed to change the way the public thinks about commuting in, around and across large urban areas.
Heaviside is Kitty Hawk’s third aircraft after Flyer, a single seater designed to fly over water, and Cora, a semi-autonomous two-seater aircraft.
"We want this to be available to everybody, not just rich people. Ideally this will be made available as some sort of personal taxi service," the company’s chief executive Sebastian Thrun told the TechCrunch Disrupt SF conference on 3 October. "You go to your phone and summon a Kitty Hawk with an app and up comes your Heaviside or Flyer. You hop in and away you go."
The carbon-fibre Heaviside, named after the renowned British mathematician, physicist and electrical engineer Oliver Heaviside, has a 20-foot wingspan and a range of about 100 miles. It can travel the length of the San Francisco Bay, from San Jose to San Francisco, in about 15 minutes, the company says.
In a promotional video on its website, the company claims Heaviside “is fast, small and exceedingly quiet. Heaviside is 100 times quieter than a regular helicopter.”
Kitty Hawk is not the first entrant into the urban air mobility market. Other firms looking to make air taxi service mainstream include Lilium, Volocopter, and Terrafugia. Ride-hailing company Uber and commercial aircraft manufacturers Boeing, Airbus and Embraer are also in on the act.
Boeing’s autonomous passenger air vehicle (PAV), developed by subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences, launched on its maiden flight earlier in January, while Airbus’ CityAirbus prototype made its first flight in May. EmbraerX, a subsidiary of the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer, presented its concept publicly in 2018. In partnership with Uber, EmbraerX would market its concept for aerial ride-sharing flights via an Uber Air mobile application.
In addition to the engineering and technical questions to be answered, logistical challenges such as air traffic management, regulatory authorization and public acceptance are just a few of the huge hurdles these concepts need to master in the coming years.