Kitty Hawk's flying car flies, floats, but doesn't roll

Silicon Valley is often credited for defining and redefining many things, and it seems it is set to redefine what a "car" is. One that can fly in air, float on water, but not drive on land. That might be the impression you'll get from seeing this flying car prototype from Kitty Hawk, until you realize what it really is: a successful test of a personal flying vehicle designed to be accessible and available before the year ends.

Of course, this isn't the first time we've seen flying cars and neither will this be the last time. If the trend continues, the automotive and tech industry will soon be shifting gears from autonomous cars to flying cars. We've already prospects and proposals from giants like Airbus, Uber, and PAL-V. Now it's the turn of Silicon Valley startups to take center stage.

Named after the town where the Wright Brothers made their historic first flight, the relatively smaller Kitty Hawk has giants behind it. It is backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, though not owned by Alphabet. At least not yet. It is headed by Sebastian Thrun, the founding direct of Google X, now just X. And although it only came into the spotlight less then four years ago, this recent test flight, which took place above a San Francisco lake, shows it has come a long way.

And yet, it still has a long way to go to qualify as a flying car, never mind as a car in the first place. The flying vehicle, which can already achieve heights of 15 feet above water, looks less than a commercial vehicle and more like an unfinished Star Wars prop. It resembles more a speed boat with a web-like safety keeping the rider from being cut up by the propellers. And it sounds like a speed boat, too. Suffice it to say, if Kitty Hawk wants to sell these by year's end, they have a lot of work left to do.

And that's not yet considering the regulations and laws they have to pass through. After being caught unprepared by the meteoric rise of drones and self-driving cars, government agencies and lawmakers are not about to let flying cars pass without much scrutiny. Kitty Hawk, unlike, say, Uber, wants to consider regulators as their friends and play by their rules. They currently operate under a special FAA category for ultralight aircraft so that drivers and testers won't need pilot licenses. And for added safety, they test only over open water.

But, sooner or later, Kitty Hawk will have to face the problem that every flying car company is facing. The world as we know it isn't yet prepared for an aerospace filled with drones, let alone flying cars. So while Kitty Hawk may be able to start selling its vehicles soon, it will take far longer for laws to catch up.

SOURCE: New York Times