Gone are the days of having to fight for a taxi in major cities, book rides from airports weeks in advance, or worrying about how you can get from point A to point B safely when you are unable to drive. Services like Uber and Lift have revolutionized the way people travel everywhere in the world. A safe and reliable ride is literally at your finger tips whenever you need one. So how can the transportation industry progress beyond these convenient ride services? Some see the next logical step is to take the rides off of the roads and into the skies.
Imagine being able to travel to your destination in a taxi through the air. It sounds like a scene out of the movie, but it’s a reality that could quickly be dawning upon us. As the technology behind drones and self driving vehicles matures, the ability to hop into a taxi sized drone is something companies are now trying to establish. New Zealand has been pioneers in the concept of drone delivery systems. Way back in 2016 the country made headlines when Dominoes Pizza delivered a pizza to a customer’s home. Since then New Zealand has continued to embrace how drones can be used to deliver goods directly to customers. The logistical protocols tested in New Zealand have led to major developments for companies like Wing and Amazon to begin drone deliveries in the United States. With New Zealand’s progressive thinking towards drone programs, it’s only fitting that they are now testing a passenger drone program.
Headquartered in Mountain View, CA, Wisk was founded in 2019 as a joint venture between Kitty Hawk and Boeing, two of the world’s leaders in aviation technology. The team at Wisk set out with the goal to make air travel easy and accessible to everyone at all times. They weren’t looking to develop another airline company, but a self flying drone that could be used for transportation. Though Wisk wasn’t formally founded until recently, they began working on this concept over a decade ago. The concept they came up with is called Cora.
Cora is an entirely electric air taxi. As Wisk explains, “Rising like a helicopter and flying like a plane, Cora will remove the need for a runway and allow you to land where you need to be. And by using self-flying software combined with human oversight, Cora by Wisk is shaping the future of accessible, everyday flight.” At 21ft long with a 36ft wingspan, Cora is able to carry two passengers a distance of 25 miles at a height of 1,500 ft above the ground, well beyond the constraints of everyday traffic. “Cora is powered by 12 independent lift fans,” Wisk explains, “which enable her to take off and land vertically like a helicopter. Therefore, Cora has no need for a runway.” This means that Cora can collect and deliver passengers to virtually any location. And while being able to reach a maximum speed of 100 mph, Cora can give people the option of rapid mobility.
Of course, a self flying passenger drone can raise a lot of safety concerns, but the team at Wisk has spent years addressing those. They began both manned and unmanned tests on Cora in 2017, logging over 1,000 test flights. The company claims that the drone has been designed without a single point of failure with a rotor safety system for each of the 12 individual rotors, a triple redundant flight computer, and a fail safe parachute emergency system. With all of these factors in place, the government of New Zealand has chosen Wisk to be the country’s first air taxi program.
In October of 2019, the government of New Zealand announced that they plan to invest NZ$3 million into airspace integration trials. Dr. Megan Woods, Minister of Research Science and Innovation for New Zealand said, “The government sees great potential in the development of an innovative unmanned aircraft sector in New Zealand and we are in a prime position to work with globally-leading companies here to safely test and go-to-market.” She went on to say, “As well as the economic and social benefits the growth of this industry offers, we also share Wisk’s vision of a greener, emission-free way for Kiwis and visitors to New Zealand to get around. Enabling the emergence of an entirely electric air taxi service is a natural fit with New Zealand’s zero carbon goal by 2050.”
Wisk, who has an office in Wellington, New Zealand, is now ready to begin trials with actual passengers thanks to the backing of the New Zealand government. “We needed a place that was just as bold and dynamic in order to bring Cora to the commercial market,” the company said in a blog post. “A place that could be more than just a willing airfield. That had a world class reputation in certification and regulation. And a government and society with an eye to the horizon.” Over the last several years, New Zealand has proven to be a country willing to be on the forefront of drone technology, leading the way other countries develop drone and aviation logistics.