Inside Silicon Valley’s 10-year quest to make soaring above a crowded city street as easy as calling an Uber.
Engineers and entrepreneurs have spent more than a decade nurturing a new breed of aircraft, electric vehicles that can take off and land without a runway.
They believe these vehicles will be cheaper and safer than helicopters, providing practically anyone with the means of speeding above crowded streets.
“Our dream is to free the world from traffic,” said Sebastian Thrun, another engineer at the heart of this movement.
That dream, most experts agree, is a long way from reality. But the idea is gathering steam. Dozens of companies are now building these aircraft, and three recently agreed to go public in deals that value them as high as $6 billion. For years, people like Mr. Leng and Mr. Thrun have kept their prototypes hidden from the rest of the world — few people have seen them, much less flown in them — but they are now beginning to lift the curtain.
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