The Cormorant Unmanned Air vehicle (UAV) prototype recently performed its first autonomous pattern flight. The Cormorant Unmanned Air vehicle (UAV) prototype recently performed its first autonomous pattern flight. The Cormorant Unmanned Air vehicle (UAV) prototype recently performed its first autonomous pattern flight. (Photo: Urban Aeronautics)

Watch a driverless flying vehicle make its first flight

The Cormorant stays aloft for 2 minutes, lands safely and may just be the taxi of the near future.

In January, word spread of a unique unmanned air vehicle finally getting off the ground – literally – after nearly 10 years in development. But excitement was muted because the vehicle, known as the AirMule, executed a flight that was a short, wobbly thing that didn't go much further than the length of a parking lot.

On Tuesday, the excitement ratcheted up a notch when AirMule makers Urban Aeronautics announced the successful completion of a full, autonomous flight on a preplanned route in Israel, where the company is headquartered.


The vehicle, now called the Cormorant, can go 60 mph and has a range of 430 miles. Its autopilot uses an array of sensors to rely primarily on inertial and ground reference, which is more complex than flying through open, unobstructed airspace. And unlike helicopters whose fast-moving rotors take up lots of space, it works with ducted fans embedded into the machine, making for a compact vehicle that can weave its way in and out of tight spaces typical of urban areas.

During the flight Tuesday, it stayed aloft for two minutes, and more important, its flight management system proved competent enough to react to several unexpected events positively, including an adjustment during landing that saved the vehicle from crashing.

The Cormorant's autopilot relies primarily on inertial and ground reference, which is more complex than flying through open, unobstructed airspace.The Cormorant's autopilot relies primarily on inertial and ground reference, which is more complex than flying through open, unobstructed airspace. (Photo: Urban Aeronautics)

The brains behind the vehicle is Rafi Yoeli, an inventor from Israel, who was formerly a senior engineer at Boeing Aircraft. More than a decade ago, he founded Urban Aeronautics to realize his dream of a driverless flying car.

Following the flight Tuesday, he noted just how close The Cormorant is to becoming a reality.

“This flight paves the way forward for the immediate evolution of Cormorant from prototype to near-term production and ultimately commercialization of this groundbreaking technology – for broad applications and markets," he said.

MORE FROM THE GRAPEVINE:

Photos and SlideshowsPhotos and Slideshows