Kitty Hawk, Larry Page’s air taxi outfit, showed off its latest concept—an eight-motor prototype that uses an unconventional forward-swept wing and is reportedly 100 times quieter than a conventional helicopter. Kitty Hawk’s third act is known to be named after renowned physicist and electrical engineer Oliver Heaviside.

The new UAV, called Heaviside (HVSD) has been in development for about two years. Based on the short video posted by Kitty Hawk, Kitty Hawk appears to be relatively far along with the aircraft, compared to other electric vertical-lift aircraft efforts. Further, many of them have shown concepts and prototypes but haven’t flown much. All of Heaviside’s flights so far have been remotely controlled, says company spokesperson.

Heaviside drone by Kitty Hawk
Kitty Hawk’s Heaviside (HVSD) drone taking flight.

Heaviside: Autonomous drone taxi by Kitty Hawk

This is the third aircraft shown publicly. The first one was a single-seat flyer, which hovers 3-10 feet off the ground with 10 independent lift fans. Then comes the larger Cora, using 10 rotors and is targeted to be an autonomous taxi, tested in New Zealand. Further, there have been some discussions over a partnership with Boeing to collaborate on urban air mobility, particularly to increase the safety of piloted vehicles.

Kitty hawk is funded by Google co-founder Larry Page. Sebastian Thrun, the CEO of Kitty Hawk, has placed considerable emphasis on that acoustic signature, which promises to be one of the greatest challenges in terms of public acceptance of urban air mobility. HVSD is an electric aircraft designed to go anywhere and land anywhere fast and quietly, Damon Vander Lind, lead developer on the project, says.

“If you build an aircraft that can land anywhere and then say ‘actually, oh wait it can’t just land anywhere, no I need a big helipad and I need to build a bunch of structure and all that’ — you miss the point,” Vander added.

The ultimate solution to traffic and noise

The aircraft, HVSD weighs about one-third of a Cessna, is on a section of asphalt not much bigger than its wingspan. The aircraft is 100 times quieter than a helicopter, the pair stated. And it’s faster. Thrun also says that HVSD, which has a range of about 100 miles, can travel from San Jose to San Francisco in 15 minutes. The aircraft can be flown autonomously or manually, but even then most of the tasks of flying are handled by a computer, not a human.

The new video shows the aircraft flying at 1,500 feet and producing a barely audible 38 decibels, while a conventional helicopter at the same altitude produces 60 decibels. The ultimate vision, Thrun told Wired earlier this year, is to “free the world from traffic.” But that hinges as much on social acceptance of these aircraft—including the noise they make—as on technical developments. “This is a decade-long question,”