Building a flying car sounds like something out of science fiction but Abi Chandrasekhar and Gonzalo Espinoza Graham (BASc ’19) say their venture is grounded in a larger purpose of democratizing flight for all.
“On a day-to-day basis, your life is defined by the modes of transport you can access,” Chandrasekhar says. “If you’re limited by the amount of commuting you can do, then where you live, work and shop all revolve around that constraint. But if you can make a 500- or 1,000-kilometre commute, that changes everything.”
As the founders of Watfly, Chandrasekhar and Espinoza Graham are already taking pre-orders for their personal aircraft, which they were able to develop after they won $50,000 from the Velocity Fund Pitch Competition last year.
Watfly’s first aircraft, Atlas, will fly at about 100 kilometres per hour — roughly the same speed as a car. However, Espinoza Graham says their long-term goal is to create a vehicle that moves four to five times faster. The aircraft would complement other high-speed technologies like the Hyperloop, giving commuters a choice between public and private transportation.
It’s an ambitious goal, fueled in part by the pair’s first co-op terms at Tesla. “I think for many engineering students, Elon Musk is a legend,” Espinoza Graham says. “But actually working at Tesla and seeing what it takes to disrupt an industry ... suddenly, it all seemed very possible.”
... actually working at Tesla and seeing what it takes to disrupt an industry … suddenly, it all seemed very possible.Gonzalo Espinoza Graham (BASc ’19)
Student design teams allowed the pair to test their concept and hone their leadership skills during their terms on campus. With mentorship from Peter Teertstra (MASc ’93, PhD ’03), director of the Sedra Student Design Centre, and Jay Shah (BASc ’11), former director of the Velocity entrepreneurship programs, they took the next steps to turn their ideas into a business. “We’re surrounded by dreamers and doers,” Chandrasekhar says. “That energy feeds off itself. It has really helped us go after this vision.”
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Gonzalo Espinoza Graham learned something important about himself during his engineering studies: “I learned that I like starting things and I like a little bit of chaos. In my first year, I started the submarine racing team, which is still going. Waterloo gave me a lot of opportunities to test what I like, and what I like is starting new things.”