Forget the pursuit for a fully autonomous car. Google co-founder Larry Page is working on a flying car capable of vertical take-off and landing, according to a Bloomberg report.
The story starts five years ago when a fledgling start-up appears on the scene. Known as Zee.Aero, the company set up shop on land very near Google’s Mountain View headquarters in Silicon Valley, California.
This deemed strange because the search engine giant is said to have very tight control of the land, which you would expect for such a powerful, multi-billion dollar company.
Naturally, then, silicon valley journalists believed Zee.Aero to be a part of Google but it denied any affiliation on numerous occasions. Reporters also believed it was connected to Google’s holding company, Alphabet. But it turns out, Zee.Aero was funded by Page himself.
Page is said to have remained hidden from involvement until now because the man calling the shots was simply known as Gus, short for ‘guy upstairs’, to employees. Now it has 150 staff and a pair of prototype aircraft that are being tested near its new airport hangar in Hollister, about 70 minutes from Mountain View.
The idea of building a flying car is nothing new, but recent technological developments, including those in car autonomy, are making it more viable. And with Larry Page’s access to money and technical expertise, it may be more likely to hit retail than other ventures.
Page has allegedly spent US$100 million to date developing his flying car, which insiders claim is able to take off and land vertically. It is all-electric, meaning no fossil engine to get it off the ground. One design is said to look like a conventional plane while another has propellers all down each side.
Backing up the claim are patents filed by Zee.Aero in 2012, one of which shows vertical take-off and landing capability, like that of a helicopter, and is said to be a “safe, quiet, easy to control, efficient and compact aircraft”.
Page has also reportedly invested money into a rival flying car company called Kitty Hawk, also in the start-up phase, as if he is hedging his bets. Kitty Hawk is being run by Google X founder Sebastian Thrun and is working on its own flying car design.
Employers at Zee.Aero are said to have come from the likes of NASA, Boeing and Tesla founder Elon Musk‘s SpaceX space company, which is working on getting humans to Mars. So the expertise is there – it’s more about whether it will be beaten to the punch.
It could be that Page is just spending some of his vast wealth on a fun new project without wanting to get serious, but this is a man with vision and as autonomous cars – a big investment for Google – become the norm, there will be a gap for the next big thing. Flying cars would fit the bill nicely.