'Blade Runner' becomes reality? Two flying taxi startups get Pentagon funding

Two startups aiming to build the world’s first flying taxis are getting funding from the U.S. military.

Kitty Hawk and Joby Aviation received almost $2 million from the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), the Pentagon’s commercial tech hub that has outposts in Silicon Valley, Austin and Boston.

The website for Cora, Kitty Hawk’s experimental air taxi, claims that it began “as a dream” and will be for “the trips you make every day, the ones that define our lives.” The California-based firm, which has the backing of Google co-founder Larry Page, has plans for planes that would hold two passengers and fly between 500 and 3,000 feet above the ground.

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The DIUx’s plan for small electric aircraft is less ‘Back to the Future’—everyone remembers the time-traveling DeLorean—and more ‘Blade Runner,’ according to a document obtained by the Guardian. It reads: “These vehicles will ... offer a niche capability for specific tactical applications with a low acoustic signature, near instantaneous start/stop, ability to spread an assault force across multiple vehicles, and automated systems.”

Kitty Hawk received funding from the Pentagon for its work on flying taxis.

Kitty Hawk received funding from the Pentagon for its work on flying taxis. (Kitty Hawk)

Kitty Hawk provided the following statement to Fox News:

"Our vision is to bring an air taxi so personal and so simple it could take the trips you make every day. Cora is exclusively a civilian aircraft. We have constructive and collaborative relationships with all the regulators and government agencies that we are working with. Our objective in working with DIUx was to accelerate our flight testing efforts to support commercialization of the Cora civilian aircraft in the United States."

Joby Aviation, which received $970,000 from DIUx early last year, promises on its site to solve the problems of emissions from transportation by “delivering safe and affordable air travel to everyone.” The firm isn’t hurting for cash at all, having secured $100 million in Series B funding in February.

Kitty Hawk received $1 million shortly thereafter, according to a site that tracks government contracts.

DIUx is involved in a wide range of areas aimed at expanding the Pentagon’s tech capabilities while also introducing efficiencies that could save the agency money over time.

The under-the-radar department recently tapped retired Air Force Colonel Michael Madsen as its new head of operations in Washington, D.C. Madsen, who flew C-17s and worked on legislative affairs for the Air Force, recently touted one project with the Air Force Combined Operations Center that reportedly saved $137 million per year.

“I think DIUx has been so focused on building that relationship with Silicon Valley tech companies, which has been critical, but what they’ve missed is telling the story, especially the return-on-investment story, to the Hill and inside the building,” Madsen told Defense News.

Another award granted by DIUx will allow the Army to use machine learning to predict when components on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle will fail or need maintenance.