At a time where competition is mounting in the self-driving car space, there’s growing focus on another form of futuristic transportation: air taxis.
That became more apparent when Uber released its 98-page white paper showing its intention to build a VTOL (short for Vertical Take-Off and Landing) aircraft that doesn’t need a runway to ascend. But Airbus’s Silicon Valley arm, A³, is also working on an air taxi project dubbed Project Vahana, and Google co-founder Larry Page is investing in Zee.Aero, a start-up whose VTOL prototype was reportedly seen in action at Hollister Municipal Airport in October.
Interestingly enough, Zach Lovering, who oversees Project Vahana, worked for Zee.Aero for four years before joining Airbus in February. Lovering said while he was at Zee.Aero he worked on everything from the aircraft’s structure to its motor design.
Zee.Aero may have the backing of one of Silicon Valley’s biggest names in tech, but Lovering said there was a clear advantage to working with Airbus.
“There’s a much bigger focus here on actual productization and getting this thing out there rather than focusing on developing really cool technology,” Lovering told Business Insider.
Lovering said Zee.Aero is more focused on the tech behind the aircraft than addressing how to build an infrastructure so it can operate safely in a real-world setting.
“It’s more so the rest of the picture — I can have a car driving on road, the DOT may certify it, but if I have no roads and no gas stations that car isn’t going to be very good,” he said.
“That’s the bigger problem, I need to build air roads and air infrastructure and that’s something I think Airbus is uniquely positioned to take advantage of.”
Lovering’s comments are a bit reminiscent of the problems that have plagued Google’s self-driving car project.
Bloomberg reported that Page was “heartbroken” by the pace of the self-driving car project even though it began its autonomous car efforts before many other companies. The issue stems down to Google’s inability to actually mass produce the car — something major automakers are naturally better positioned to handle.
Now, Google proper isn’t funding Zee.Aero — Page is investing in the start-up with his own money. But it’s an interesting (and similar) tension between an ambitious Silicon Valley project without industry knowledge competing against a major company with aviation experience.
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