Forget self-driving cars. For years now Google co-founder Larry Page been thinking ahead by personally -- and secretly -- investing in two start-ups that promise something much more exciting: Flying cars. Image: Getty
One of the startups, called Zee.Aero, launched in 2010 with a plan to make, as Bloomberg describes it, "a small, all-electric plane that could take off and land vertically". (So, yes, a flying car.) Its headquarters were right next to Google, but no employee would answer questions about whether it was part of Google or provide more details about what it's doing. It's not part of Google, exactly. Turns out, Page himself has been secretly funding it all along. Employees of Zee.Aero didn't even call him "Larry Page", instead opting for GUS, which is rather ominously short for "guy upstairs". (Page initially restricted Zee.Aero employees to only the first floor of their building.) Page has spent over $US100 million ($134.8 million) on Zee.Aero, but this is not a hobby he wants to be widely known. According to Bloomberg, he once vowed to a colleague that if his involvement became public, he would pull support. Currently, Zee.Aero has created two electric-powered prototypes that have taken test flights.
Zee.Aero patent from 2011.
Because one flying-car start-up isn't enough, Page recently backed another, called Kitty Hawk, which is competing with Zee.Aero. Kitty Hawk has close connections to Google too: Its president is Sebastian Thrun of self-driving car fame. Other employees include more folks from Google's self-driving car team, and people from GoogleX, the secretive research division that Thrun founded.
Page certainly isn't alone in his interest. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said he wants to make a flying car too, and Page has said before that he's been inspired by Musk's risk-taking. Page, Musk and everyone else have been fascinated by the dream of personalised air travel. (They even made a brief appearance in the US presidential election when Republican candidate John Kasich promised he would make them happen).
Even though people keep insisting they're coming by 2017 -- or, more generally, "two years ago" -- the most we've seen are some Terrafugia concept videos, super-expensive "cars" that seem to be small helicopters, and prototypes from 1990. In short, flying cars are really difficult, but if Page and the brain trust of Google is on their side, maybe they're just a little more feasible than we thought.