Two Cities Launch Plans for a Flying Taxi Service by the 2030s

Three autonomous aerial vehicles (AAVs) are being considered for this epic feat. 


An Ehang 184 AAV.
An Ehang 184 AAV displayed at the World Government Summit 2017 in Dubai. Getty Images.

Few things are infuriating as traffic. Think about all the hours lost over a lifetime just sitting there, instead of being home, enjoying some quality time with your partner, or having a drink with friends. By the 2030s, this irritating tableau might be eliminated in two of the world’s most dynamic cities. Instead of pounding your steering wheel in a traffic snarl, you could be whisked away in a flying taxi, where you’ll sit back and relax, as the city skyline opens majestically before you.

Sound fictitious? It’s slated to become a reality. Singapore is investing in flying, driverless drones, which could take riders anywhere in the city. Officials unveiled their plan at the second Business Times Leaders' Forum recently. An official at the Ministry of Transport reported they are in talks with companies, presently.

Singapore is a relatively small city with a high population and a tremendous traffic problem, which is expected only to worsen over time. What’s more, land and manpower constraints have hampered alleviation projects. This plan therefore is an ingenious workaround. Permanent Secretary Pang Kin Keong unveiled the lion city’s proposal. Artificial intelligence and the ubiquity of data are already beginning to disrupt the transportation sector, worldwide, according to Mr. Keong.

Singapore Plans on introducing a fleet of airborne drone taxis. Getty Images.

An on-demand bus system is also in the works. This will be for off peak hours and areas of low ridership. More information about that program should come out later this year. Other possible plans currently being tested are driverless pods and self-driving taxis.

Though these systems would be introduced, the city’s rail system will remain, the official stressed. This will merely augment the transit system. In this model, car ownership is deemed superfluous as all the expenses and headaches that come with it are no longer worth it.

Instead, one might have a series of apps on their phone which could offer on-demand air and land-based options. One’s selection would depend on distance, time constraints, and the traveler’s needs. “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,” Mr. Keong said.

The Hoverbike Scorpion-3 is one proposed model. See its promo video here:

Three prototypes, mostly Autonomous Aerial Vehicles (AAV) are being considered. The first is the Hoversurf Scorpion, brainchild of a Russian startup. It looks like the result of an unblessed union between an exercise bike and an unusually large drone. One of the advantages is it can perform a vertical takeoff and landing.

It’s a motorcycle size frame one sits on, but instead of wheels, it’s a quadcopter. A projection from each of its four corners carries a propeller which hurls it aloft. It’s as if you were riding a motorcycle through the air. One question, what do you do when it rains? The company’s website has an impressive drone taxi design, but this is still in the works.

Volocopter VC200. By: e-volo.

The next is the Volocopter VC200, developed by the German company e-volo. The bottom portion is much like a helicopter with cockpit and runners. But on top, 18 electric rotors give it propulsion and flight. It does look elegant if somewhat ridiculous. But if you’ve ever wanted to depart in a fashion worthy of a bond villain, this option is for you.

The last and according to yours truly, the most likely candidate, is China’s Ehang 184 AAV. Videos of this self-flying drone have been making its way around the internet. It’s a one-seater with a small, sleek cockpit, runners, and four arms, one jutting out of each corner, carrying two propellers, one at the top of the arm and another on the bottom. Just type in your destination and the drone does the rest.

It’s designed to carry a passenger of up to 220 lbs (100 kg). On a fully charged battery, it’ll fly at 60 mph (approx. 96 kmh) for a range of about 19 miles (30 km), and can reach an altitude of a little over 11,000 ft. (approx. 3.4 km). On board, you can enjoy 4G mobile Internet or the scenery flowing past. But don’t bring a lot with you. It’ll only have enough room for a small suitcase.

EHang 184 AAV displayed at the World Government Summit 2017 in Dubai. Getty Images.

Dubai's Road and Transport Authority (RTA) is beating out Singapore’s timeline, saying it will offer 184’s, in limited airborne taxi service, by the end of the year. But the RTA hopes that such trips will make up a quarter of all transport in the city by 2030. Little more has been revealed about Dubai plan.

In both plans, such vehicles will go through extensive testing. The details of the aerial network within each and emergency measures, should one malfunction, still need to be worked out. Even so, the governments in both cases seem confident that they’ll reach their goals.

To learn all about the Ehang 184, click here: 

Study: Unattractive people far overestimate their looks

The finding is remarkably similar to the Dunning-Kruger effect, which describes how incompetent people tend to overestimate their own competency.

Sex & Relationships
  • Recent studies asked participants to rate the attractiveness of themselves and other participants, who were strangers.
  • The studies kept yielding the same finding: unattractive people overestimate their attractiveness, while attractive people underrate their looks.
  • Why this happens is unclear, but it doesn't seem to be due to a general inability to judge attractiveness.
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Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
Surprising Science

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

Protecting space stations from deadly space debris

Tiny specks of space debris can move faster than bullets and cause way more damage. Cleaning it up is imperative.

  • NASA estimates that more than 500,000 pieces of space trash larger than a marble are currently in orbit. Estimates exceed 128 million pieces when factoring in smaller pieces from collisions. At 17,500 MPH, even a paint chip can cause serious damage.
  • To prevent this untrackable space debris from taking out satellites and putting astronauts in danger, scientists have been working on ways to retrieve large objects before they collide and create more problems.
  • The team at Clearspace, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, is on a mission to capture one such object using an autonomous spacecraft with claw-like arms. It's an expensive and very tricky mission, but one that could have a major impact on the future of space exploration.

This is the first episode of Just Might Work, an original series by Freethink, focused on surprising solutions to our biggest problems.

Catch more Just Might Work episodes on their channel:

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