No Flying Machine is Too Crazy for Singapore's Air Taxi Plan


Singapore’s future might involve a lot of flying machines and robot drivers, and some of the concepts the city is considering are absolutely bonkers.

On Wednesday, the country’s Ministry of Transport outlined its plans for what commuting in the south Pacific city-state will look like in 2030, and a key component of its plan is the flying taxi. In fact, it’s already talking to manufacturers about conducting passenger-carrying drone trials, in a variety of flying machines including a hoverbike and an 18-rotor helicopter.

“In 2030, you bet your money that aerial transport will also be a means of urban mobility,” Pang Kin Keong, permanent secretary to the Ministry of Transport, told The Business Times during a leaders’ forum on Wednesday.

It’s unclear which drone makers the government is speaking to, but Pang’s presentation specifically mentioned three passenger drones as examples.

The first, the Hoversurf Scorpion, is a compact drone hoverbike made by a Russian startup. Designed to resemble a compact dirtbike, the company hopes that the underlying technologies could serve as the basis for a future flying taxi project.

The second was the Volocopter VC200, an 18-rotor behemoth that dominates the area around it. Much like the Hoversurf, the Volocopter is designed for ease of use. Unlike traditional helicopters, the drone has an intuitive joystick control layout that responds to commands more intuitively than larger machines.

The third was the Ehang 184, a drone taxi that was created by a Chinese firm and unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. It can carry up to 220 pounds, reach two miles above sea level and fly for 25 minutes, ideal for short range commuter journeys.

The Ehang is probably the closest to a practical flying taxi design: unlike the Hoversurf, it has a pod to protect passengers from the outside world. Unlike the Volocopter, it has a small number of propellers that make it better for navigating tight cityscapes.

In fact, Dubai announced last month that it plans to use the Ehang 184 when it launches a flying taxi service in July:

Alongside flying taxis, the government envisions a future where self-driving buses roam around Singapore. The ministry has already signed a contract with one manufacturer to trial such buses, and plans to sign a second agreement soon.

Before these buses hit the road, the government wants to give passengers a smartphone app to request buses to their location. This plan, which will be discussed later this year, would ideally reduce empty spaces on buses.

Elon Musk outlined a similar idea in his Tesla second master plan, envisioning a self-driving bus available via smartphone request. At the time, he said he planned to unveil the concept sometime later this year.

This, combined with the flying taxis, will give Singapore with numerous transit options. Rail will stay central to these plans, but commuters will be able to seamlessly switch between a number of options with ease.

“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,” Pang said.