Singapore in talks with firms to try out 'flying taxis'

Singapore in talks with firms to try out 'flying taxis'

Transport Ministry looks at aerial taxis and on-demand dynamic-routing bus services for the future

By SOON Thursday, March 23, 2017 - 05:50

The Hoversurf Scorpion, a human-carrying drone developed by a Russian startup, has already been prototyped and could be an urban-mobility option for Singapore.

WANT to get back home at the end of the day in a levitating hovercraft?

Flying vehicles may just be a part of Singapore's transport network in the near future; in fact, the Ministry of Transport says that you can "bet your money" on it.

It has already taken initial steps to make it happen. The ministry's top official has told The Business Times that it is in talks with some companies to start trials on drones that can carry passengers.

But human-carrying drones are not the only newfangled modes of transport to come to Singapore down the road - on-demand buses that ply dynamic routes may soon feature in Singapore's public bus network as well.

These ideas were unveiled on Wednesday at the second Business Times Leaders' Forum, where the ministry gave an idea of its vision for urban mobility in 2030 Singapore.

Speaking to more than 400 participants, Permanent Secretary Pang Kin Keong listed some of the trends and technologies his ministry is looking at for Singapore's future transportation mix.

Noting that the availability and affordability of data and the rise of artificial intelligence are already upending the transport sector globally, Mr Pang stressed, however, that Singapore's transport industry is up against land and manpower constraints.

These constraints and trends will result in a different transport landscape for Singapore by 2030, although trains will still continue to be the core of Singapore's public transport system, he said.

By 2030, there will be a rich and growing range of urban-mobility means.

Thus, rather than owning a mode of transport, it may be more sensible to pay for different mobility services tailored for different kinds of journeys. Mr Pang said that it may thus be possible to ride in a driverless pod to work, cycle to the gym after work, and then take an aerial taxi home.

"There is going to be a significant shift in the public mindset from one of ownership of transport assets - which is the mindset today - to one of procurement of transport services as and when you need them."

The convergence of land and air mobility can be a mobility option, he added, as he showcased images of three human-carrying drones that have already been prototyped.

They are the Hoversurf Scorpion by a Russian startup, the Volocopter VC200 from German company e-volo, and the Ehang 184 autonomous aerial vehicle from China. Dubai is already planning to fly the Ehang 184 as an aerial taxi as early as July.

"In 2030, you bet your money that aerial transport will also be a means of urban mobility," he said, but did not disclose further details beyond the ministry being in talks with some companies about putting human-carrying drones through tests.

While the contours of aerial transport in Singapore's network may still be hazy for now, a new form of service may take shape sooner.

Mr Pang said in his presentation that Singapore is looking at on-demand public bus services for areas with, and during hours of low ridership. This means that buses will ply low-ridership routes that are dynamic and responsive to riders' real-time demand during off-peak hours.

This can eliminate the problem of empty spaces on buses, which is a "terrible waste" of taxpayers' and commuters' money, he said.

Mr Pang told BT that the ministry is still developing the concept, "but probably will share something later this year".

The Transport Ministry is also stepping up its efforts to push for driverless buses. It has signed a partnership agreement with a party to build and put such buses through a trial, and will be signing another agreement quite soon, he said.


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