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Sebastian Thrun on flying car safety: ‘If we screw it up it would put it off for decades’

Sebastian Thrun, Vanity Fair Summit
Sebastian Thrun, Vanity Fair Summit

(Sebastian ThrunVanity Fair)

Flying cars are coming to skies near you in the foreseeable future if Sebastian Thrun, former Google executive and founder of the personal flight company Kitty Hawk, gets his way.

There is one thing that could seriously delay Thrun's Jetson style flying cars, and that's safety.

"I honestly think safety is the paramount thing for this entire concept, if we screw it up it would put it off for decades," said Thrun during his appearance at Vanity Fair's New Establishment Summit on Wednesday.

Kitty Hawk has already run over 1,000 test flights, and Thrun said that thankfully, no one had been hurt, but that all the tests had been conducted at low heights over water. When Average Joes are reaching altitudes of 1,000 feet or more on their way to work, the stakes are a lot higher.

Fewer obstacles in the sky

Thrun sees the air as a safer space than the ground, because, very simply, there are fewer things to hit. He noted that the 30,000 car crashes that happen every year go largely under the radar, but that if they all happened on the same day, the news would be everywhere. Thrun had a close friend pass away in a car crash when he was 18, and getting safety right is incredibly important to him. "I take issue with the lack of safety. Even if you're used to it, it doesn't mean it's right," said Thrun.

Kitty Hawk Flyer
Kitty Hawk Flyer

(The Kitty Hawk Flyer.Kitty Hawk)

He took the Vanity Fair stage alongside Kitty Hawk engineer Cameron Robertson, one of the inventors of the Snowbird Human-Powered Ornithopter, the world's first human-powered flapping wing aircraft. Robertson is part of the team working to bring Kitty Hawk's recreational vehicle, "Flyer", to market as soon as next year.

Robertson is taking the same testing approach with the Flyer that he did with the Ornithopter, using every single flight test as a way to discover the thing the team needs to learn most. He said taking a ride on Flyer is like a dream come to life, and that he gets butterflies every time he goes up. Right now, the team is focusing on making flight as easy as possible, and an enjoyable experience for every rider.

Price and delivery date for the Flyer are to be determined, but consumers can expect it to hit the market at some point next year. The vehicle will only be for recreational purposes at first, and Thrun was quick to point out that cars were only for recreation when they were first introduced, allowing for society to learn to use them and become orientated with the new mode of transportation.

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