Ask serial entrepreneur and inventor Sebastian Thrun and the answer you'd get is, “more disruption.” As the CEO of Kitty Hawk, a company with the bold vision of bringing flying cars to consumers, Thrun is imaging a future where autonomous cars have been replaced by personal autonomous planes. Kitty Hawk’s Flyer, as the project came to be called, was intended to be small enough to avoid safety certification altogether, weighing in under 254 pounds so it could qualify under Federal Aviation Administration rules as an ultralight, a category of aircraft that’s long been the province of hobbyists and tinkerers. I help direct our coverage of autos, energy and manufacturing, and write about aerospace and defense. “Kitty Hawk doesn’t start from the principle of what’s the economically viable thing we’re going to build. At Google, he founded Google X and Google's self-driving car team. “It would be transformational to almost every person I know.”, Two years later, however, Kitty Hawk’s promise to bring personal flying to the masses has failed to take wing yet amid technical problems and safety issues with Flyer and unresolved questions about its practical use, according to four former Kitty Hawk employees who were among six who spoke to Forbes on the condition of anonymity due to nondisclosure agreements. Sebastian Thrun (born May 14, 1967) is an entrepreneur, educator, and computer scientist from Germany. Stanley is now on display at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. On the day I make the long, traffic-clogged drive from Berkeley to Mountain View to meet Sebastian Thrun, Kitty Hawk's CEO, it's supposed to rain. It engineers something to solve a problem and then it’s ‘Okay, here’s a cool thing we built—what can we do with it?’ ” said an ex-employee who was among a wave of departures from the Flyer program this year. The focus has been on improving reliability rather than iterating on the design, and on finding a use for the vehicles. Sebastian Thrun Vanity Fair Flying cars are coming to skies near you in the foreseeable future if Sebastian Thrun, former Google executive and founder of the personal flight company Kitty Hawk, gets his way. Then in 2018 it started giving a small number of media test rides at Lake Las Vegas of a more finished vehicle with a composite frame with a constellation of ten upward-facing rotors around it. Shernaz brings a track record of building brands and taking businesses to the next level to her work at Kitty Hawk. Sebastian Thrun Defends Flying Cars to Me The CEO of Kitty Hawk, the Larry Page-funded personal airborne vehicle company, explains why this isn’t the stupidest idea ever. He is also the founder, chairman, and president of Udacity, whose mission is to democratize education. At the same time, the company may have given up control of Cora, sources suggest. He is also the founder, chairman, and president of Udacity, whose mission is to democratize education. The company has scouted out cities where it could offer point-to-point rides across bodies of water, which would make for a more forgiving surface to come down on in the event of a crash, two former employees said. Prior to Kitty Hawk, Molly was at Wachtell Lipton in New York, where she practiced corporate litigation and handled internal investigations for a variety of Fortune 50 clients, including J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs and the NBA. (Update: In Monday’s announcement, Boeing and Kitty Hawk confirmed Gysin is the CEO of the new joint venture company.). The original vision was to produce a literal flying car, with folding wings so it could fit inside a home garage, but that was quickly abandoned as impractical, and Zee went on to try other designs, including one registered with FAA under the name “Mutt” because of its marriage of new elements with an older configuration. Sebastian Thrun is a scientist, educator, inventor, and entrepreneur. Sebastian is the CEO of Kitty Hawk, whose vision is to free people from traffic. Kitty Hawk has reached out to the U.S. Coast Guard to ask how it would classify Flyer, a Coast Guard spokesman said. The company believes that when everyone has access to personal flight, a new, limitless world of opportunity will open up to them. In 1903, the Wright brothers took flight for the first time from the beaches of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. You can learn more about our use of cookies and data collection, including opt-out information, by reading our privacy policy, found here. Before that, he was a Google VP and Fellow, a Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, and before that at Carnegie Mellon University. It is supported by Google's co-founder Larry Page. Late that year the Mountain View, California-based company also began flight-testing a more ambitious project in New Zealand: a two-seat electric self-flying taxi called Cora that Kitty Hawk says will enable city dwellers to soar over gridlocked streets. Sebastian is the CEO of Kitty Hawk, whose vision is to free people from traffic. Kitty Hawk is funded by Google cofounder Larry Page and led by CEO Sebastian Thrun, a self-driving car pioneer. Several said they believe Boeing is now in control of Cora. Kitty Hawk had just shown off a prototype of the Flyer, a single-seat, battery-powered aircraft intended to be a low-altitude fun machine for use over water, like a jet ski on rotors, with handling that would make flying as easy as driving. Over the last six months, the Flyer program has gone through a reset, former employees said. Kitty Hawk has applied for a permit in Jersey City, New Jersey, to develop a floating dock and hangar for a potential route across the Hudson River to Manhattan, and is exploring a route across San Francisco Bay, according to local media. Flyer president Alex Roetter and Kitty Hawk CEO Sebastian Thrun said the organization will now turn its efforts on a previously secret all-electric aircraft, the Heaviside. Our world-class team contributes decades of expertise in commercial aviation, aerospace, automotive engineering, advanced manufacturing, flight test, industrial design, customer experience, and regulatory compliance. That would leave Kitty Hawk with two other aircraft: Flyer and Heaviside, an autonomous winged one-seater unveiled in October that, in an attempt to solve the noise problem that has made heliports unwelcome neighbors, was designed to be 100 times quieter than helicopters, as well as faster. He is CEO of Kitty Hawk Corporation, and chairman and co-founder of Udacity. Operation of ultralights is restricted—they can’t be flown over populated areas or at night—but ensuring the aircraft is safe is left up to the maker. Since our journey began, we have tested 100+ eVTOL prototypes, and there’s no end in sight. Kitty Hawk, the eVTOL company founded by Sebastian Thrun and Google co-founder Larry Page, released an in-depth video describing the performance characteristics of its single-seat Heaviside aircraft. “The technology is one thing, but 80% of the effort is in productizing and building an aircraft that can be certified,” said Lawson. “It is going to be a ride-sharing model for transportation services.”. Behind closed doors, Flyer encountered problems, including frequent breakdowns and fires involving batteries, electric motors and wiring, two former engineers said. However, the company faces the same problems as any aspirant in the field: the poor energy density of the current generation of batteries severely limits the flight times and carrying capacity of electric aircraft, and building a functioning prototype is faster and easier than turning it into a reliable product that satisfies aviation regulators’ safety requirements. Boeing might be the one to see it through. Michael Huerta served as Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from 2013 to 2018. Sebastian Thrun, who used to work at Google before leaving to set up his flying-vehicle firm, Kitty Hawk, was speaking at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in … Sebastian Thrun is CEO of Kitty Hawk, founder and Chairman of Udacity and Cresta, a former Google Fellow and VP, and an Adjunct Professor at Stanford University. Cora is an electric VTOL aircraft designed to carry two passengers about 60 miles at a speed of 110 ... [+] mph. Sebastian was the founder of X (previously Google X), where he led the development of the self-driving car, Google Glass, and other projects. “No person has ever been harmed or exposed due to undue risk in over 26,000 test flights with over 100 prototype vehicles,” wrote Shernaz Daver, an advisor to Kitty Hawk, in an email response to a list of questions sent by Forbes. Today, in California, we are building on their legacy to create the next generation of vehicles for everyday flight. At Kitty Hawk, they engineer, design, and build safe, fun, easy-to-fly aircraft. With an engineering team smaller than 20, Flyer made rapid progress. Damon Vander Lind is a start-up founder, aircraft designer, and engineer with a passion for building highly efficient flying vehicles. 4 minute read Inspired Execution: CEO of Kitty Hawk and Founder & Executive Chairman of Udacity Sebastian Thrun discusses the transformative role AI and machine learning will play in the future of education, what it’s like to be at the helm of two companies at once, and learning from failure. Sebastian Thrun is a scientist, educator, inventor, and entrepreneur. It tinkered with a series of concepts, including a complicated scheme to suspend a pod from aircraft by tethers that could pick up a person or cargo on the ground while the aircraft circled overhead. Sebastian Thrun (President and CEO) Website: Kitty Hawk Corporation is an American aircraft manufacturer producing electric personal air vehicles History. Thrun worked at and led Google’s self-driving car project before turning entrepreneur. Michael redefined the FAA's regulatory relationship with the aviation industry leading to greater levels of safety and led the effort to modernize the nation’s air traffic control system to pave the way for the safe integration of commercial space operations and small unmanned aircraft systems. Our journey began with Kitty Hawk in 2010, and it’s where Cora, our self-flying air taxi, was born. It’s unclear how Flyer would be regulated in such a use, with one gray area being whether it would be treated as a boat traveling above the water or a low-flying aircraft. Among the failures were a series of fires during its development. Kitty Hawk is a startup taking aim at creating real, usable flying cars. Kitty Hawk confirmed to Forbes that, after unveiling a more polished version of Flyer last year, it has decided not to sell the one-seater to individuals and has returned deposits to would-be buyers. Sebastian Thrun isn’t your ordinary Silicon Valley computer geek-cum-Stanford professor. Eventually Zee decided the plane should be developed into a pilotless air taxi, now dubbed Cora. Beyond Udacity, Thrun is pushing new boundaries, working with Larry Page to launch a flying car last month with start-up Kitty Hawk, and using technology to … You may opt-out by, Deputy editor for Industry; eyes on the skies. It … Public filings and organizational shifts at Kitty Hawk described by former employees indicate that there’s been a change of control of the Cora program, and Boeing seems the likely acquirer. Sebastian Thrun is an innovator with the reputation of getting big projects off the ground— sometimes literally. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Stanford University and at Georgia Tech. But Flyer wasn’t ready to thrill: The latest prototype was breaking down frequently and needed regular troubleshooting and repair by engineers, three former employees say. Flyer for quick thrills, but the company has pivoted to an idea to trial using it in a transportation service. Prior to joining Kitty Hawk, Damon was the lead engineer at Makani, a company that developed the first wind-power generating tethered kite to harness wind resources for supplying the world with clean energy. Sebastian Thrun is a scientist, educator, inventor, and entrepreneur. “We are taking a deliberate look at determining what these vehicles are, as that determination will set precedence for years or decades to come regarding their place in the marine transportation system.”. The company’s other major program, Cora, also faces daunting regulatory hurdles. At least two members of the flight test team were let go after questioning the safety of the aircraft, they said, and some other members of the Flyer team who spoke up quit or jumped to another program at Kitty Hawk. His LinkedIn profile states he’s head of a stealth mode startup. Hard yards lie ahead for Cora in New Zealand, where Kitty Hawk chose to try to win safety certification due to enticing features of the country’s air safety code, which promises to allow the company to collaboratively define airworthiness standards with that country’s Civil Aviation Authority. Its mission is to make the dream of personal flight a reality. In June, Boeing and Kitty Hawk announced a strategic partnership that they said would “bring together the innovation of Kitty Hawk’s Cora division with Boeing’s scale and aerospace expertise.” Public records and changes at the company suggest it goes deeper than that. Thrun wanted a small team to work fast and creatively, using as many off-the-shelf components as possible, according to former employees. Shernaz was CMO of Inktomi for six years and took the company public; worked in video games, and started out at Sun Microsystems. Eventually Kitty Hawk, which went on to absorb Zee.Aero, embarked on a mission to be the first to get an electric passenger aircraft to market that could take off and land vertically. By continuing to use our Services, you are consenting to our use of cookies and our data collection. Those final, long and painstaking steps promise to be a tall hurdle for many of the urban air mobility startups as they try to transition from Skunk Works-type inventors to real businesses, said Lawson—and it could account for the bulk of the spending. Oct.15 -- Sebastian Thrun, Kitty Hawk chief executive officer and former head of Google's autonomous driving program, discusses his big bet on artificial … In the case of urban air mobility, many of the requirements don’t yet exist. The company was founded 2010. The latest idea: that Kitty Hawk would operate Flyer as a service. Another version needs to be constructed with safety systems, weatherproofing and passenger comforts, and designed to be easily manufacturable. Heaviside is our most powerful, fastest and quietest vehicle yet, bringing us even closer to our goal of freeing the world from traffic. He has published over 380 scientific papers and 11 books, and he is a member of the National Academy of Engineering in the US. At Kitty Hawk, Damon is general manager of Heaviside, where he leads a team in developing and building the first quiet eVTOL vehicle of its kind. She did not comment directly on the fires or reports of breakdowns or problems with batteries. Over her career she has worked with a range of companies across the globe including Netflix, Walmart, Motorola, Baidu, Khan Academy and Guardant Health. Sebastian Thrun, robotics expert and CEO at Kitty Hawk Tackling the skills shortage Thrun wants to solve one of the biggest problems related to AI — the skills shortage — by … Sebastian Thrun has been at the forefront of disruption, taking on big ideas as head of Google X, founding online learning platform Udacity and now Kitty Hawk, which uses electric power and AI … Thrun sees personalized air transportation as the solution to traffic congestion. Additionally, a unique provision of the regulations permits “adventure flights” by aircraft that don’t have standard safety certifications, such as vintage warbirds, which could allow Kitty Hawk to launch a revenue-generating passenger service before Cora is fully certified, said James Lawson, an aerospace safety consultant who previously consulted with Kitty Hawk on Cora when the company was considering pursuing certification in the U.S. Cora is hand-built, largely of custom components made in-house, and still at the stage of proving out its technology, former employees on that program said. EY & Citi On The Importance Of Resilience And Innovation, Impact 50: Investors Seeking Profit — And Pushing For Change, Michigan Economic Development Corporation BrandVoice, putting up Web pages to take applications, exploring a route across San Francisco Bay. It has about 300 employees. Molly brings years of experience to her role as General Counsel and Corporate Secretary and also leads the company's business operations. The modern-day Kitty Hawk was run by Thrun, who previously directed Google’s moonshot R&D program and founded online education company Udacity. (Update: On Monday, after publication of this story, Kitty Hawk and Boeing announced that Cora has been folded into a joint venture company named Wisk Aero. Larry Page began dabbling in aviation in 2010, quietly funding a company called Zee.Aero that was led by a Stanford aerospace professor, Ilan Kroo, near the Google campus. Those individuals declined to comment when reached by Forbes. She completed her undergraduate work at Stanford University Phi Beta Kappa and her master’s work at Harvard University. The jetmaker and Kitty Hawk declined to comment. In 2015 Page set up another stealth startup next door to Zee.Aero and called it Kitty Hawk, after the tiny coastal village in North Carolina’s Outer Banks where the Wright brothers carried out their own flying experiments. “The term thrown around was we were the cowboys of Kitty Hawk; we were doing crazy stuff,” said one. Sebastian Thrun added that an announcement is due in March about the next stages of the project. The company has shelved the idea of marketing Flyer as a recreational device and is exploring commercial options, perhaps running it as a kind of aerial ferry. The startup promised to put the Flyer in eager buyers’ hands by the end of the year. Kitty Hawk got off to an earlier start than many of the scores of startups now attempting to build electric urban air taxis, and the deep pockets of Page, who has a nearly $60 billion fortune, have been a huge advantage, enabling the company to hire hundreds of engineers, machinists and designers to create cutting-edge aircraft. Only recently did the Flyer program get its own battery expert on staff, one former employee said. Michael received an undergraduate degree from the University of California, Riverside and a master’s degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. Prior to becoming a lawyer, Molly was a product development engineer at Procter & Gamble and is a patented inventor for her work on P&G’s Pampers product. Two Boeing executives and Wisk’s CEO, who previously worked for Boeing, hold three seats on the five-member board.). Send tips to jbogaisky[at], © 2020 Forbes Media LLC. Intent on bringing Flyer to market quickly, management in several instances brushed off workers who expressed worries that problems with the aircraft could endanger passengers, two former employees said. And riders will no longer have the freedom to take Flyer for a joyride, they say: The flight path will be automated. Sebastian Thrun is among the most prolific entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. With flight time maxing out at 20 minutes due to battery limitations, Kitty Hawk initially intended ... [+] Flyer for quick thrills, but the company has pivoted to an idea to trial using it in a transportation service. “This thing would break every few hours and need service,” said one. In May, Kitty Hawk general counsel Molly Abraham made a filing in Delaware to incorporate a company under the name of Cora Aero at the same address as Kitty Hawk; a November filing lists Cora Aero’s CEO as Gary Gysin, who until February was head of Liquid Robotics, a developer of wave-powered autonomous watercraft that was acquired by Boeing in 2016. At roughly 65 million miles in length, terrestrial roadways increasingly carry … “Just imagine traveling at 80 miles an hour in a straight line at any time of day without ever having to stop,” Thrun told the Guardian a few months after Cora was unveiled. Since 2010, Kitty Hawk has been making strong advances in eVTOL technology. She currently serves as executive advisor to GV; and senior advisor to Voyage and 10x Genomics. “I’m excited that one day very soon I’ll be able to climb onto my Kitty Hawk Flyer for a quick and easy personal flight,” Page said at the time. Though Flyer was capped to 10 feet in altitude and 20 mph in speed, and Kitty Hawk said it was intended to be flown over water, for safety, the company was presenting it as a thrill ride, putting up Web pages to take applications for the first production models from individuals and potential fleet operators like amusement parks or resorts. All Rights Reserved, This is a BETA experience. He is also the founder, chairman, and president of Udacity, whose mission is to democratize education. As a serial founder whose ventures include Google X, education trailblazer Udacity, and transportation company Kitty Hawk, he is an enormously big thinker whose natural curiosity leads him to … Kitty Hawk did not respond to questions about Flyer’s reliability. The YouTube personality Casey Neistat gave it a try, publishing a video that was watched 2.2 million times in which he shouts happily while banking and spinning Flyer around the lake. To save on weight, two former employees said that engineers dispensed with the protective shielding commonly used between lithium-ion battery cells in cars, bundling cells together with tape, increasing the risk that if one ignited, others would catch on fire, too. Udacity is for online learning, offering nano-degrees (short courses) in areas including drones and machine learning; Kitty Hawk Corp is making electric planes and flying cars while AI powered is trying to automate repetitive jobs. Since she first took to the skies in 2017, she’s logged more than 1,000 test flights. “It was a pattern—if you talked about safety, you were done, so you just didn’t,” said one former employee. She was CMO of Udacity where she was instrumental in increasing revenue and establishing a global brand. In 2017, success seemed to be just around the corner for Kitty Hawk, the secretive flying-car company that’s bankrolled by Google cofounder Larry Page and run by Sebastian Thrun, the Stanford AI and robotics whiz who had launched Google’s self-driving car unit. We are proud to partner with public and private organizations who share our vision for a traffic-free future. Makani was acquired by x and became a part of Alphabet. The modern-day Kitty Hawk was run by Thrun, who previously directed Google’s moonshot R&D program and founded online education company Udacity. Former Kitty Hawk employees said that around the time the Boeing partnership was announced, access to the Cora building, which had contained a cafeteria and reception area shared by all, was abruptly restricted to workers only on that program, and IT, HR and other back-office workers were divided between Cora and Kitty Hawk. Damon completed his undergraduate work from MIT in Physics and Computer Science/Electrical Engineering, and holds a pilot’s license, which he utilizes along with his bike for his daily commute. Kitty Hawk offered a rare peek behind the curtain to the New York Times in 2017, showing off what appeared to be a motorcycle on a spiderweb with eight downward-facing rotors. “That’s just how it had to be if you wanted to keep getting a paycheck.”.