Zee Aero, a low-profile company based in Mountain View very close to Google X, the company’s research lab, has registered a patent for what appears to be a flying car, reports SFGate (via Gizmodo). And from two photos uncovered by the paper, it looks like the company has already got as far as either a prototype or large mockup.

The patent illustrations look all but identical to an aircraft spotted from a helicopter at an abandoned Naval base on Alameda just under a year ago. If the photo looks a little odd it’s because Greg Espiritu used a camcorder to zoom in and then took this photo of the LCD display.

Here’s one of the patent illustrations:


And here’s a photo of the same aircraft taken outside Zee Aero’s offices:


So far, it could be any experimental aircraft. But here’s the really cool thing:


Nothing says ‘flying car’ better than a patent illustration showing it in a parking lot.

The flying car concept has been around for a long time. A real one was built way back in 1956 – the Aerocar – and there are examples still flying today. The Moller M400 vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) skycar has been in development for, well, basically forever. The Terrafugia Transition has flown. And there are others.

But the real drawback to the real ones is that you need a pilot’s licence to fly one, and in most cases a runway too. Not too practical for grocery shopping. The dream has always been a VTOL skycar that can take off from anywhere, land anywhere and where there’s enough automatics to allow them to be flown by anyone who can drive a car. Given Google’s self-driving car experience, one has to wonder if that’s what’s in development here.

This is, of course, all speculation. We don’t even know for sure that it’s a Google-funded project. But you don’t get to actually build this kind of thing without some serious financial backing from somebody, and the location seems at least an interesting coincidence …

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