Zee.Aero is a startup company that has patented designs for a “personal aircraft,” better known as a flying car. Since the company is based near the Google X research facility, there had been rumors that it was linked to Google, but the company said it wasn’t. But there still is a Google connection: Larry Page is helping to finance it.
Bloomgerg reported today that the co-founder of Google and CEO of Alphabet has been personally funding Zee.Aero since 2010, when the start-up launched.
Here’s what you need to know about Zee.Aero.
1. Zee.Aero Was Founded by Stanford Professor Ilan Kroo
The company was started by Ilan Kroo, who took a leave of absence from Stanford to focus on developing flying cars. He had been a professor in Stanford’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics since 1985 and earned a PhD. from the program in 1983. Kroo also founded Desktop Auronautics, a sonftware and consulting company based in Palo Alto.
Kroo also worked at the Advanced Aerodynamic Concepts Branch at the NASA Ames Research Center. He has a long list of awards, including the NASA Exceptional Public Service Medal, which he earned in 2010. He is listed as the inventor of the flying car design patented in July 2013.
Kroo eventually left Zee.Aero in 2015, although he remains an advisor, Bloomberg reported. Eric Allison is the company’s current CEO and they are working on a new design.
2. Filed for the Patent in 2012 & Design Uses 10 Propellers
Technically, the flying car is a “vertical take-off and landing aircraft” (VTOL) and more like a personal plane than a car. With the help of eight propellers (four on each side), the vehicle takes off vertically and uses two thrust propellers to push it forward. According to the patent, the propellers are small enough to avoid endangering passengers. The vehicle will run on battery power, but has a small hybocarbon-based fuel engine to expand the vehicle’s range.
The patent does include plans for other versions of the aircraft that will hold more than one pilot and passenger. You can see all of the additional illustrations of the patent right here.
3. Aircraft Can Fit in a Parking Space
With all of those propellers, one would think it would be difficult to fit the plane into a parking spot. But the aircraft is narrow and can fit in a standard parking spot, so owners will have no problem using it to make a quick shopping run. One of the patent illustrations shows how the wings can fold inwards to allow it to fit into a small space.
The landing gear would also include wheels so the vehicle can move on the ground. However, other versions of the aircraft have skids instead of wheels, “since the aircraft is capable of takeoff and landing without forward movement.” The versions with wheels would even include small motors to propel the vehicle on the ground.
4. Despite Proximity to Google, Zee.Aero Is ‘Not Affiliated’ With Them
Sources told the San Francisco Chronicle in November 2013 that Google was somehow linked to the company. Its offices are near Shoreline Lake in Mountain View, California, near Palo Alto. That’s also where Google’s Googleplex headquarters is and its secret Google X research facility.
There was also a prediction by Google developer Sebastian Thurn in the New York Times in 2011 that flying cars would be common by 2040. Thurn is the developer behind Google’s self-driving cars.
However, Kroo told the Chronicle that the company is “not affiliated” with Google, despite being located so closely to them. “The company is in its early stages — still in stealth mode — and we have not been talking to people about our plans quite yet. I’ll look forward to talking with you when things are a bit further along,” Kroo said.
5. It’s Not the Only Flying Car Start-Up Page is Backing
According to the Bloomberg report, Page is also backing another start-up with dreams of building a flying car called Kitty Hawk. The company, named after the North Carolina town where the Wright Brothers first took off in 1903, has its headquarters just a half-mile away from Zee.Aero. Their president is none other than Thurn, who did not comment on the Bloomberg report.
Some of the employees at Kitty Hawk are Zee.Aero veterans, while others previously worked at Aerovelo. Emerick Oshiro, who also worked on Google’s self-driving car, also works at Kitty Hawk. Page’s involvement with this company only put added pressure on Zee.Aero. Bloomberg’s sources said that Kitty Hawk’s design looks like a giant quadcopter drone.