Kitty Hawk, the air taxi company backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, is buying what’s left of former DJI competitor 3D Robotics. As part of the acquisition, Chris Anderson, co-founder of 3D Robotics, will become Kitty Hawk’s Chief Operating Officer.
the take over was first reported by Forbes, which Friday published a detailed overview of Kitty Hawk’s current state and its new focus on the development of a remote-controlled electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.
Anderson will work under CEO Sebastian Thrun, a former Google executive who founded the company’s self-driving car project (before it became the standalone company Waymo) and launched its famous “X” moonshot division.
For a short time, 3D Robotics was the only US company trying to gain space in the burgeoning consumer drone market against early entrants such as France’s Parrot and China’s DJI. But as DJI began to dominate the market, 3D Robotics abandoned its consumer product (which had autonomous capabilities and was called Solo), laid off a number of employees, and spent the years developing software for commercial drones. However, late last year, the company asked the Federal Aviation Administration to certify a drone for government use that “maybe” relies heavily on automation, indicating continued interest in hardware.
Some personal/professional news: I’m in @kittyhawkcorp (Larry Page & Sebastian Thrun’s eVTOL company) as COO as part of a 3DR acquisition. The path from drones to remotely piloted passenger aircraft is becoming clearer, especially based on FAA certification…
— Chris Anderson (@chr1sa) June 11, 2021
“The path from drones to remotely piloted passenger aircraft is becoming clearer, especially from an FAA [certification] base,” Anderson tweeted Friday. “The two share many similar technologies, from power systems to autopilots, so it will be interesting to see where scaled-up drones and scaled-down traditional aviation meet.”
3D Robotics isn’t the only drone company working on autonomous technology. Fellow startup Skydio has released two versions of its own self-flying camera drone before recently shifting its focus to corporate and military customers.
Page founded Kitty Hawk in 2015, although the company didn’t get coverage until 2017. The startup’s initial focus was around a small personal electric plane called the Flyer, which Kitty Hawk said would be so easy to fly that a pilot’s license wouldn’t exist. are required. It was even said at the time that a commercial version would be available by the end of 2017.
Kitty Hawk developed a working prototype of the Flyer and even showed a much slimmer version the following year. The startup also revealed a second plane named Cora in 2018 that it transferred to a joint venture with Boeing. But Kitty Hawk left the Flyer in 2020, laying off dozens of employees and turning his attention to a third electric plane in development. That plane, called Heaviside, is more like a traditional plane and more like the vehicles built by numerous other eVTOL startups like Archer, Joby and Lilium.
While the plan with Heaviside was originally to test it, the company is now working on making it fully autonomous, according to the Forbes report. Thrun reportedly pushed for this change of direction so hard that Kitty Hawk fired the engineer behind the plane, Damon Vander Lind, in May after fighting for the original vision. The report also details a number of recent employees who have left, including a few engineers who left Kitty Hawk after they believed Vander Lind was retaliating against them for raising security concerns about Heaviside.