CES 2018: Intel's CEO Becomes First Passenger in an Air Taxi

Intel's partner, Volocopter, provided its multicopter and flew it by remote control in a hangar—a baby step, but still, a first step

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Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel Corporation on Volocopter’s first passenger flight.
Image: Volocopter

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.

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Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.

NASA

For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

The Webb’s comms aren’t flashy. Rather, the data and communication systems are designed to be incredibly, unquestionably dependable and reliable. And while some aspects of them are relatively new—it’s the first mission to use Ka-band frequencies for such high data rates so far from Earth, for example—above all else, JWST’s comms provide the foundation upon which JWST’s scientific endeavors sit.

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