A drone-like flying taxi yesterday whirred over Singapore’s waterfront, with the firm behind the test hoping the aircraft would revolutionize travel in traffic-choked Asian cities.
The 18-propeller vehicle, developed by German firm Volocopter GmbH and with a pilot onboard for safety during the test flight, took off from a promontory and flew for about two minutes and 30 seconds around the Marina Bay District.
Heavy rains in the morning almost delayed the flight, but the skies cleared in time for the battery-operated, two-seater taxi to quietly fly past skyscrapers.
Volocopter has already conducted tests in Dubai, Helsinki, Germany and Las Vegas, but the Singapore trial is the company’s first in the heart of a city.
The orderly metropolis is likely to be among the first to get the service, with a commercial rollout expected in two to four years.
Volocopter then hopes to introduce the vehicles in traffic-clogged Asian cities.
“We aim to bring it to Jakarta and Manila and Bangkok because they have a great need for it, India and China [too],” Volocopter chief executive Florian Reuter told reporters.
In Singapore, the flying taxi would be used to provide quick travel on specific routes, such as from Marina Bay to Sentosa Island, home to a number of tourist attractions and luxury hotels.
Volocopter on Monday in the city-state the “VoloPort,” a flying taxi port at the water’s edge with a landing and takeoff pad, as well as a passenger terminal.
The port was not used for yesterday’s test flight, because it has not been certified yet.
Volocopter — in which Chinese automaker Geely Holding Group Co (吉利控股集團) has a stake — faces some competition, including from Uber Technologies Inc and Kitty Hawk Corp, a firm backed by Google cofounder Larry Page.
In related news, Munich-based developer Lilium GmbH yesterday said that a prototype flying taxi has achieved speeds in excess of 100kph, giving it confidence to expand production capacity ahead of a planned commercial launch in 2025.
Powered by 36 electric motors, the Lilium sports a fixed-wing design that its makers say will give it an efficiency and range advantage over more drone-like competitors, such as Volocopter and Britain’s Vertical Aerospace Ltd.
“We are taking tangible and concrete steps towards making our vision of regional air mobility a reality, and we are doing it on time,” said CEO Daniel Wiegand, who founded Lilium in 2015 with three friends from the Technical University of Munich.
The test flights come six months after the five-seater Lilium first staged a test “hover” at a Munich airfield. For now, Lilium is testing its air taxi by remote control, but it will bring in onboard pilots later to be certified airworthy.
Ultimately, the Lilium would be able to complete a 300km intercity “hop” in an hour, offering an affordable and emissions-free alternative to traveling by commercial airline, road or rail, its creators say.
The company has completed a first manufacturing facility in Munich, with a second under construction that would enable it to make hundreds of craft a year by the middle of the next decade.
Lilium is working with European flight safety regulators to get the aircraft certified — a prerequisite for commercial operation.
Tests so far have included engine and flap failures, and fuse-blow tests, both in flight and on the ground.
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