讓的士飛往天上
Flying Taxi

當共享、無人駕駛等概念正為汽車工業帶來史無前例的科技競賽的時候,不少車廠已靜悄悄將道路的戰場向上移,瞄準空中公交項目研發。
When the concepts of sharing and unmanned driving are bringing unprecedented technological competitions to the automotive industry, many car manufacturers have quietly moved their battlefield to the development of aircraft projects.

text: T Chan

見工、見岳母、見情人,遇上交通擠塞怎麼辦?很簡單的,“ 飛的”前往便可以了。誠然,此時此刻,縱使閣下乘坐那台的士是由法拉利改裝,0-100公里不用等超過3秒,但只要在路面上,總不可能避開修路公程、魯莽司機、交通系統故障等而導致的堵塞,亦不難聽到狂躁司機口中自言自語地抱怨著:要準時到達目的地,除非懂得飛上天!是的,真的感謝這世上終於有人想得出、更做得到“ 飛天的士”的概念,以便關懷體貼的愛妻及明白事理的岳母不用因為筆者遲到兩分鐘而懷疑出現交通意外。

空中巴士(Airbus)所研發的“無人空中的士”項目Vahana,由2016年提出,到本年6月正式宣布公開測試。較早前廠方公布了一段影片,表示試飛成功。飛行時間雖然僅為53秒,但空中巴士希望Vahana的速度日後可以達到地面交通公具的4倍,但乘坐成本卻比坐汽車或火車便宜。項目負責人指Vahana的試飛成功,標誌全球向城市內的空中交通的里程碑。不少科企都正在研發空中直升機,務求以更輕巧、成本及維修更容易控制的空中交通工具為客人服務,同時不少傳統的汽車生產商及共享交通工具平台亦紛紛跟科企展示合作開發項目的可行性。

至於一直走在前科技前線的Uber亦與美國太空總署(NASA)合作,全力推動名為Uber Elevate的計劃,料2020年開始試營空中的士UberAIR,率先於洛杉磯及杜拜試飛,稱往來三藩市矽谷灣區的東部至西部,通勤時間由2小時變成15分鐘;在印度,由古爾岡到首都新德里,通勤時間由90分鐘變6分鐘。階段試驗城市包括洛杉磯及杜拜,最快於2020年啟航。由於洛杉磯將舉辦2028年奧運會,Uber展望屆時UberAIR已成為成熟的通勤方式。

最新參與空中的士計畫的英國飛機引擎製造商勞斯萊斯,最近發布一款為飛行的士設計的推動系統,這款電動垂直起飛和降落EVTOL汽車可以搭載4至5人,時速可達約400公里。勞斯萊斯預期,產品可於2020年代初實現,並將會尋找合作夥伴共同開發項目。交通業界將眼光放投向飛天的空中汽車,包括Uber、空中巴士以至汽車初創都於近一兩年推出飛天的士的產品計劃,而勞斯萊斯的計劃亦與其他同業的時間表接近。勞斯萊斯的EVTOL並非純電動,採用混能設計,對環境並非最為友善,惟公司指可直接使用現有的基建設施如直升機場進行運作。

What should you do while encountering traffic congestion? Currently, the best choice must be taking a taxi. However, even if the taxi you are riding is modified by Ferrari, which accelerates from 0-100 km/h in less than 3 seconds, it is impossible to avoid the blockage caused by road repairs, careless drivers and traffic system failures as long as it is on the road. We should really appreciate the fact that someone finally comes out of the concept of “flying taxi”.

Vahana, an unmanned air taxi project developed by Airbus, was proposed in 2016 and officially announced the successful first flight with a duration of 53 seconds in June this year. Airbus hopes that Vahana’s speed will reach 4 times that of ground transportation equipment with cheaper cost than taking a car or train. The project leader refers to the successful flight test of Vahana as a milestone of global air traffic in cities. Many enterprises are developing air helicopters to serve customers that is more cost-effective and easier to maintain. At the same time, many traditional automobile manufacturers and shared transportation platforms have also cooperated with the enterprises to demonstrate the feasibility of cooperative projects.

Uber, who has been the pioneer of technological development, is working with NASA to promote the plan called Uber Elevate. It is expected that the pilot air taxi UberAIR will launch in 2020. Los Angeles and Dubai will be the first to conduct the flight tests. The commuting time in San Francisco Bay Area reduces from 2 hours to 15 minutes. In India, from Gurgaon to the capital New Delhi, commuting time is changed from 90 minutes to 6 minutes. With the goals of operating demonstrator flights starting in 2020, the air taxi will become mature in 2028 as the Olympics is going to be held in Los Angeles.

Rolls-Royce unveiled a hybrid-electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft named EVTOL, which is capable of carrying 4 to 5 people at a speed of about 400 km/h. Rolls-Royce will look for partners to jointly develop projects and expects that the product will be realized in the early 2020s. The transportation industry has set its sights on flying air vehicles, including Uber, Airbus and even car startups which have launched the product plan of flying taxi in the past year or two. The Rolls-Royce plan is similar to the schedule of other peers. As a hybrid electric vehicle, EVTOL is not the most friendly to the environment. Rolls-Royce mentions that they can make direct use of existing infrastructure such as a heliport.