From the bygone days of Grease and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, to more serious sci-fi flicks like Blade Runner, to pop-culture favorites like Harry Potter and Back to the Future, it seems that the concept of the flying car has been floating (pun intended) in the back of our imaginations for almost half a century now. Even with the impressive strides technology has made since the turn of the century, however, it’s doubtful that even the most optimistic engineer could argue that a jet-fueled, airborne motor vehicle is on the horizon—the up-and-coming self-driving car, which has the potential to be the flying car’s precursor, still has a lot of kinks to work out before becoming fully functional. (If you don’t believe us, check out the hilarious scene involving an autonomous car from HBO’s Silicon Valley here.)
However, these mortal concerns have never seemed to pose an obstacle to bold, pioneering innovators with a net worth of $29.2 billion—and why would they? Larry Page, co-founder of Google and CEO of Alphabet, has bigger dreams and a bigger checkbook than the rest of us driving earthbound vehicles, and he’s putting them to use by funneling money into startups (yes, multiple!) dedicated to building the world’s first flying cars.
As of now, according to a report from Bloomberg, Page covertly supports two flying car startups named Zee.Aero and Kitty Hawk, and has reportedly spent upwards of $100 million to fund the small companies, though he has taken extreme precautions to prevent his name from being linked with the projects. The exact mechanisms of what each company is working on are shrouded in mystery—Zee.Aero’s website has an intriguingly vague description of its mission:
Based in the heart of Silicon Valley, Zee is developing a revolutionary new form of transportation. Working at the intersection of aerodynamics, advanced manufacturing, and electric propulsion, we provide a stimulating environment where creative employees can explore new challenges.
This tells us next to nothing about the type of transportation or vehicle that Zee.Aero has in the works, but we can make some educated projections based on eyewitness accounts of activity that has been observed at Zee.Aero and Kitty Hawk’s headquarters. The two startups are likely working on competing versions of an airborne car and have taken divergent approaches to its structure, with Kitty Hawk’s vehicle reportedly resembling a “giant version of a quadcopter drone,” and Zee.Aero’s described as having “a narrow body, a bulbous cockpit with room for one person upfront, and a wing at the back,” closely mirroring the appearance of a typical (albeit small) plane.
The flying car isn’t the first investment Page has made for the future—the wealthy entrepreneur is known for his interest in artificial intelligence, extending human lifespan and improving the quality of the human experience. Page and fellow innovator Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and co-founder of PayPal also famed for his involvement in game-changing technologies, are close friends who often discuss how they can utilize their resources to make everyday life more efficient. Page has said that:
There’s a lot of money going into internet startup kinds of things, which is great. But for some of the real problems we face, I think we need other kinds of investments, too. I have young kids, so I would like them to be safe. I’d like for pedestrians to be much safer. I’d like for blind people and old people and young people to get around.
Though flying cars might seem like a figment of our childhood fantasies, a man as ambitious and well-equipped as Page doesn’t see them as a pipe dream or a joke so much as a way to mobilize and improve our future. Former Zee.Aero employees have revealed that, though the start-up is undoubtedly a fun and exciting place to work, the pressure that Page places on the engineers to be successful is immense, and understandably so. His motivation seems to stem from a genuine, altruistic desire to have a positive impact on human life, but undoubtedly, the child within him is also playing a substantial role in his eagerness to see the flying car come to fruition. It’s something that all of us who’ve been entranced by that magical floating DeLorean can surely relate to.
See the full Bloomberg report here for more details on the startups, as well as more information on the future of the flying car. Meanwhile, revisit a blast from the past with us below.