Congestion, environmental concerns, and technology advances have made the idea of airborne car alternatives a viable, and attractive, proposition. Last year, a startup backed by Google’s Larry Page officially launched its public plans for an autonomous, fully-electric air taxi that would fly city dwellers to their destinations high above crowded roads.
Kitty Hawk, maker of the Cora air taxi, is in the midst of flight testing its aircraft in New Zealand, a less-strict regulatory environment than the U.S. Meanwhile, the Mountain View startup is also perfecting the software that controls the vehicle — and they’ve established a new office in Atlanta for that purpose.
“We focus on what we call verification, which is an industry-standard practice in aerospace to detect and attempt to remove as many defects as possible from aircraft design software,” says Nate Fisher, Atlanta team lead of Kitty Hawk’s Avionics Software Verification and Validation office.
“Unlike a structural component, it’s not quite as easy to detect defects or really capture the presence of latent defects. Really the way to detect it is what we call design assurance.”
Fisher, a Georgia Tech graduate, had been working for Kitty Hawk on the West Coast for the past few years. He moved back last year to helm the Atlanta office, which officially opened this January.
Fisher says that what attracted him to Kitty Hawk was the combination of traditional aerospace work and the fast pace and innovative mindset of a tech startup. Kitty Hawk already has produced several Coras, a 12-rotor, autonomous flying craft with cruising speeds up to 180 kilometers per hour.
“The aircraft is very real and we have several of them,” says Fisher. The idea is for the helicopter-size vehicle to be able to land on rooftops or parking lots in the middle of cities.
While initially Fisher sought out experienced avionics technology talent to take on open senior roles, he’s now moved on to hiring junior engineers that are interested in being at the forefront of this industry.
“We have a very aggressive schedule,” he says, telling Hypepotamus that the current Atlanta team of five will swell to about 20 by the time they move into a new office this summer. The company chose Atlanta specifically because of the city’s strength in software talent.
For potential hires, Fisher says the draw goes beyond the typical benefits of working for a Silicon Valley startup (free food, education assistance, generous paid leave).
“We’re not building a toy, we’re not building just another consumer product, but we’re also not a traditional aerospace company building just another version of an airliner,” he says.
“We have people with that pedigree, so we know how to do it, but we’re also very risk-tolerant and innovation centric, and we realize that the only way we’re going to be able to do that is by harmonizing both.”
Kitty Hawk hasn’t released a timeline for when Cora will be commercially available, but they have indicated that they intend to put the aircraft in multiple countries across the world.