Brian Krzanich, the chief executive of Intel, became the first official passenger to ride in an air taxi when an 18-prop copter from Intel’s partner, the German company Volocopter, lofted him within the confines of a hangar near Munich.
Krzanich showed off the video in his keynote yesterday at CES, which is fast becoming the world’s premier showcase for transportation technology.
Being the senior partner may have given Intel’s CEO a certain droit de seigneur, but you can bet that he was preceded—unofficially—by some anonymous engineer. And the risk he took hardly defines the right stuff: a ground-based pilot controlled the craft remotely, making small and gingerly maneuvers, in a safe space unruffled by wind.
But this baby step is still the first step of its kind, and one more step on the way toward the company’s stated goal of providing autonomous personal flight to the masses. It’s been a long slog. We reported on Volocopter’s original, directly piloted machine, way back in 2011.
A raft of startups is chasing the same dream, among them Vahana, a project of the Silicon Valley subsidiary of Airbus; Ehang, of China; Zee Aero, a personal investment of Google’s co-founder, Larry Page; Uber; and industry veteran—if that word may be used—Terrafugia.
SureFly, the one contender that uses hybrid gasoline-electric propulsion, was to have shown off its prototype yesterday, but the company made the bold decision to fly outdoors. Inclement weather got in the way, so its first public flight will have to wait a bit longer.
Philip E. Ross is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. His interests include transportation, energy storage, AI, and the economic aspects of technology. He has a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University and another, in journalism, from the University of Michigan.