Two Cities Launch Plans for a Flying Taxi Service by the 2030s
Three autonomous aerial vehicles (AAVs) are being considered for this epic feat.
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:
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Is this proof of a dramatic shift?
- Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
- Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
- A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses
Dramatic and misleading
Image: Reddit / SICResearch
The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.
Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.
The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.
Let's zoom in:
- It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
- By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
- Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
- In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
- Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
- By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.
Image source: Reddit / SICResearch
This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?
- "The end is near."
- "The idiocracy grows."
- "(It's) like a spreading disease."
- "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
- "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
- "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
- "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
- "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."
Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:
- "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
- "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
- "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
- "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."
"Old people learning to Google"
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)
But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:
- "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
- "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
- "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
- "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."
A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.
The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.
One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.
Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.
It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.
CNN, Fox and MSNBC
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison
For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):
- Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
- MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
- CNN: 706,000 (-9%)
And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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