French inventor Frank Zapata grabbed headlines around the world this summer when he flew his hoverboard across the English channel from Pas de Calais, France, to the famous white cliffs of Dover. But Bay Area commuters may soon do Zapata one better by skimming above San Francisco Bay on autonomous, single-passenger drones being developed by a Peninsula start-up company with ties to Google. The automated drones are electrically powered, capable of vertical takeoff and landing, and would fly 10 feet above the water at 20 mph along a pre-determined flight path not subject to passenger controls. The drones' rotors are able to shift from vertical to horizontal alignment for efficient forward movement after takeoff. The company behind all this, three-year-old Kitty Hawk Corp., has personal financial backing from Google founder Larry Page, now CEO of Google's parent, Alphabet, who has long been interested in autonomous forms of transportation.
So far, Agility Robotics has sold three Cassie robots (University of Michigan is a customer, for example) and has sales for another three in progress. The goal is to sell another six Cassie robots, "so optimistically 12 customers total for the entire production run of Cassie," Shelton tells CNBC Make It. "That is obviously, though, a relatively compact market, and is not why we're doing the company," says Shelton, in an interview with CNBC Make It. Indeed, the next generation of the company's legged robots will also have arms, says Shelton. And one target use for the more humanoid robot will be carrying packages from delivery trucks to your door. Shelton says his house is a perfect example of how a legged robot would assist in delivery.
When the FAA finally released commercial drone regulations earlier this year, many executives were disappointed . The rules -- especially the requirement that pilots keep drones within their line of sight -- dampened dreams of commercial delivery services. Steve Burns, CEO of Workhorse, a company that specializes in electric delivery trucks, has an unusually optimistic view. With that in mind, Workhorse plans to start using drones to deliver packages at the end of August. They have already been testing the system with a Section 333 Exemption, and the next step is conforming to the FAA's new rules.
Uber Eats, already one of the most popular food delivery apps, wants to elevate the game. As it works now, drivers pick up your food from a restaurant, put it in their car, drive with the goods, and then ring your doorbell with a bag full of dinner. But at the Uber Elevate Asia Pacific Expo in Japan this week, Uber unveiled a new delivery method: the drone. Uber's drone team, known as Uber Elevate, will use what it's learned from its flying car service, known as UberAir, to try to provide faster, cheaper, and more reliable food deliveries. Uber is already talking with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration about UberAir, so Uber's drone project would conceivably fit into those conversations.