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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Top Tech 2022: A Special Report

Preview two dozen exciting technical developments that are in the pipeline for the coming year

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Photo of the lower part of a rocket in an engineering bay.

NASA’s Space Launch System will carry Orion to the moon.

Frank Michaux/NASA

At the start of each year, IEEE Spectrum attempts to predict the future. It can be tricky, but we do our best, filling the January issue with a couple of dozen reports, short and long, about developments the editors expect to make news in the coming year.

This isn’t hard to do when the project has been in the works for a long time and is progressing on schedule—the coming first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System, for example. For other stories, we must go farther out on a limb. A case in point: the description of a hardware wallet for Bitcoin that the company formerly known as Square (which recently changed its name to Block) is developing but won’t officially comment on. One thing we can predict with confidence, though, is that Spectrum readers, familiar with the vicissitudes of technical development work, will understand if some of these projects don’t, in fact, pan out. That’s still okay.

Engineering, like life, is as much about the journey as the destination.

See all stories from our Top Tech 2022 Special Report

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