The Volocopter is a clownish beast of a vehicle. Priced at $280,000, it looks like an R/C drone that’s been dropped into a vat of mutagen alongside a Mach3 razor, with 18 blades to a normal helicopter’s two. As Wired hyped the Volocopter, “… we all might finally realize the dream of ditching our cars, and take the Volocopter everywhere we want to go.”
I will never fly a Volocopter to work. You won’t, either. We’ll have Star Trek’s teleportation technology and warp drive before we have flying cars. Because ultimately, they’re not safe, infrastructurally feasible, or mechanically all that possible.
But that hasn’t stopped countless inventors and Popular Mechanics covers from claiming otherwise over the decades. To this list of flying car truthers, we can now add Larry Page. Today, Businessweek published a feature on this unlikely proponent of flying cars, reporting that Page–despite wanting to keep his involvement hidden–has invested over $100 million of his personal fortune on a company called Zee.Aero.
Based an hour outside Mountain View and now employing roughly 150 people, Zee.Aero’s designs aren’t public. The website is a plain black page, and the team’s only public demonstration was, no joke, when they appeared dressed in chicken costumes at a Red Bull’s improvised glider Flugtag competition. To their credit, they did break the previous world record.
But in a particularly shrewd bit of management, Businessweek reports that Page also invested in a competing flying car company last year, called Kitty Hawk. Kitty Hawk’s president (as of 2015) was Sebastian Thrun, founder of Google X–and it set up its headquarters in a cul-de-sac right down the street from Zee.Aero.
That’s right: Page’s two flying car startups seem to have been placed in side-by-side cages to spark maximum competition–Ali taunting Frazier through the window of his own gym.
As for whether or not this makes flying cars any more feasible, Businessweek has made a fairly convincing argument that, thanks to improvements in materials, aerodynamics, and AI, a commuter aircraft that you call like an Uber–and that can take off and land vertically but fly through the skies like a plane–could be on the horizon within the next five years.
Even if that turns out to be true, Page isn’t building the flying car many dreamed about backing out of their McMansion garages before soaring above the gridlock commute to work. He’s creating an on-demand personal charter flight for the 1%, and maybe a better ambulance for the rest of us. He’s creating a better-looking Volocopter. What he is creating has yet to be seen–but a car it is not.
All Photos (unless otherwise noted): Nikolay Kazakov/© e-volo