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This Startup Is Turning Regular Helicopters Into Autonomous Air Taxis

California-based Skyryse plans to outfit consumer-grade helicopters with its autonomous flying technology.

In the increasingly crowded race to create the first autonomous air taxi service, Southern California-based Skyryse isn’t the newest startup in the game. But the company, which was established last year, does have one advantage that just might see it get off the ground before the rest of the competition: It’s not creating an aircraft from scratch.

While other startups, and more established companies like Airbus and Boeing, spend their time and money on developing completely new electric-powered VTOL aircrafts, Skyryse plans to use consumer-grade helicopters to fill-out its air taxi fleet, according to The Verge. Dubbed the Luna, the company’s helicopter is a modified, Federal Aviation Administration-approved Robinson R-44 which has been outfitted with proprietary autonomous technology called Flight Stack, which allows the Luna to fly unpiloted.

“Each component of the system works in triplicate with airline-grade, fail-operational technology to ensure that automation functions remain operational at all times, even in the presence of equipment failures,” the company told the website.

Using a suite of sensors, Skyrise’s autonomous technology will help steer, stabilize, and direct the Luna, while monitoring other flight data. Meanwhile, take-off and landing are aided by ground-based sensors in the helipad that will communicate with the Luna and alert it to weather changes and low-flying objects like drones and birds. The tech won’t just be for autonomous flight, either. The company envisions it also being used to aid piloted vehicles by acting as a sort of “cruise control” and taking over aspects of flying.

And Skyryse’s tech isn’t just some dream concept; the company actually has footage of it at work in the Luna. Posted online earlier this week (and shown above), the 90-second video shows the helicopter flying through the Southern California while the back-up pilot simply sits back and marvels.

Of course, this isn’t the first air taxi startup to show its product at work. Just this fall we’ve seen Vertical Aerospace and Lilium show off their electric-powered aircrafts. But because Skyryse doesn’t have to produce an entire fleet of aircrafts from scratch, it could be closer to take off than anyone.

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