Kitty Hawk, the electric airplane startup backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, has a new aircraft. Called the Heaviside (shortened to HVSD), the plane is all-electric and Kitty Hawk's third such vehicle since the company was founded in 2015.
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The HVSD has eight electric motors, each driving a propeller which can be pivoted up and down, allowing for vertical takeoff and landing. The aircraft requires no runway and can take off like a helicopter, before the propellers rotate and it flies forward like an airplane.
Kitty Hawk's big claim with the Heaviside is how quiet these electric motors are compared to conventional aircraft. The startup says the Heaviside emits 38 decibels of noise when hovering at 1,500 feet, compared to 80 dBA from a helicopter — which is approximately 100 times more, due to how decibels are calculated.
"Once in the air, the vehicle blends into the background noise of a city or suburb, barely discernible to the human ear," Kitty Hawk says.
The Heaviside is claimed to emit just 38 decibelsKitty Hawk
It is interesting timing for Kitty Hawk to show off its new aircraft, and specifically focus on how quiet it is when flown in urban environments. The announcement comes just a day after Uber said its Copter service is now available to everyone, shuttling customers between lower Manhattan and JFK Airport via a Bell 430 helicopter with seating for up to six passengers.
That said, the Kitty Hawk Heaviside has just one seat, so clearly isn't designed for offering passenger rides just yet. However, Kitty Hawk says it has been testing the Heaviside with and without a pilot inside, thanks to remote control systems designed to safely push the aircraft to its limits without putting anyone in danger.
Kitty Hawk also says how its new electric aircraft can fly from San Jose to San Francisco, which is approximately 42 miles away as the crow flies, in 15 minutes and does so using "less than half the energy of a car." This equates to an average speed of 168mph.
The company has said little else about the aircraft, however TechCrunch was given some extra details, including a range of about 100 miles.
The goal for Kitty Hawk is to drastically cut commute times, which currently stand at an average of 53 minutes in the United States. The startup says using the HVSD instead of a car or public transport would cut the annual average total commuting time from 231 hours per person, to 21 hours — another ten times savings.
Despite the smart marketing photos and live demonstration this week, Kitty Hawk's development of the Heaviside is still in its early stages. The company says the aircraft was still just a drawing a year ago, and clearly there is still a long way to go to prove its safety, performance — and, ultimately, its worth.
Being able to demonstrate savings on commute time and urban noise pollution is one thing. But turning this into a commercial reality is another challenge entirely.