Image Credit: Lilium Official Website
Traffic congestion has been steadily rising in cities over the past few decades, which has had a significant negative impact on both the environment and the mental health of city dwellers. Cities often take actions nowadays to discourage people from driving (more road tolls, parking fees, etc.), but they hardly ever provide alternatives.
Urban Air Mobility, also known as UAM, is more and more recognized as a viable future alternative for quick, efficient, and environmentally friendly travel that will address both the traffic and environmental problems that plague today’s cities.
While up until now, the only modes of transportation we were familiar with were taxis, (passenger) drones are gradually beginning to ply the skies as an alternative. Many chronically overworked infrastructures, including those in cities with rapidly expanding populations, may feel less strain as a result of this. Urban Air Mobility initiatives have already been tested out in cities like Dubai, Singapore, Los Angeles, and Dallas for some time.
Urban air mobility, often referred to as advanced air mobility, is a novel concept that intends to provide an affordable, reliable, and accessible air transportation system for passenger travel, freight delivery, and emergency management within or between urban regions.
Despite the fact that numerous societal concerns have been expressed about these methods, on-demand aviation has the ability to provide options for emergency services, products delivery, and passenger mobility in urban and rural regions employing small piloted and autonomous aircraft. (e.g., privacy, safety, security, and social equity).
Global Leaders Pave the Way for UAM
A number of businesses have recently built and put to the test the enabling elements of a modern UAM concept, such as prototypes of VTOL-capable aircraft, operational concepts, and urban air mobility market research to identify potential business models. Original equipment manufacturers are developing a range of manned, remotely piloted, partially automated, and fully autonomous aircraft for a number of uses.
Even though they are still in the development stage, more than 120 startups and aerospace companies have been inspired by the novel technological advancement to create UAM vehicles known as eVTOLs (electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles), all of which are imagining the potential of UAMs in future urban mobility.
These airplanes use cutting-edge new electric propulsion systems that potentially offer a number of advantages. UAMs could assist reduce travel-related carbon emissions by minimizing the need for car trips, in addition to providing other advantages including lowering air pollution.
UAMs also shorten travel times (flying in straight lines at speeds of 250 km/h), directly improving commuters’ quality of life. Air travel might also make it possible to eliminate or scale back the amount of road infrastructure in urban areas, improving residents’ quality of life by lowering noise levels and boosting access to green space, among other things.
The top eVTOL firms were founded more than 10 years ago and intend to begin operations as early as 2024 with the goal of bringing new transportation options to cities and urban areas while easing traffic.
The call for innovation in this field has been led by NASA. They are considering ways to make it safe and scalable, following in the footsteps of Unmanned Air Vehicles (drone) technology. Working through difficulties with noise impact, cybersecurity, and defining airspace integration with conventional airplanes requires cooperation.
Current Consumer Awareness of UAM
The degree to which the public accepts UAM is dependent on a number of factors, such as those related to safety, noise, energy usage, social equality, and security. Most current aircraft risks are related to the potential for flying outside approved airspace, proximity to people and/or buildings, catastrophic system failures or loss of control, and hull damage.
When using autonomous or remotely piloted aircraft, cybersecurity concerns also need to be considered. The public’s opinion of aircraft and rotorcraft, two types of eVTOL vehicles used for UAM applications, is strongly influenced by the nature and level of noise they generate.
Specific security issues include passengers’ physical safety in the absence of members of the crew and the cybersecurity of the airplane as well as the systems that govern it. High upfront expenses of UAM services may backfire in terms of public support for social justice if their future affordability is uncertain.
Restrictions and Challenges in UAM
However, there are now very serious restrictions on the use of UAMs in cities. Technically speaking, the operating capabilities of the airplane (flight time and range) are severely constrained by existing battery technology, necessitating a significant infrastructure for battery charging.
Additionally, the aircraft need specialized landing fields, or “vertiports,” which take up space and are consequently unsuitable for cities. These can, however, be attached to rooftops or other already-existing city infrastructures, lessening the difficulty of putting such infrastructures in place in city centers.
The main operational hurdles are public acceptance and airworthiness standards for airplanes. While aviation authorities may issue regulations and certifications to guarantee a safe aircraft through extensive testing and modification of existing aviation legislation, public acceptance is more difficult to handle.
Finding the best technology for each application is now a difficulty for UAM firms. This is due to the fact that the technological foundation for all commercial passenger drone services is being formed by the rapid development in the fields of electrical drives, unmanned aerial vehicle technology, and 5G communications networks.
However, no one is currently able to predict what the initial drones for urban air mobility would look like. A proper infrastructure is another barrier to Urban Air Mobility’s wide-area growth. For a viable operating business model, landing pads, charging infrastructures, and maintenance facilities must first be built.
Future transportation means must be implemented in extremely gradual phases due to the necessary adjustments resulting from the operational and technical constraints outlined above. Urban Air Mobility is anticipated to launch over the next ten years, initially focusing on freight, emergency vehicles (such as ambulances and firefighters), and passenger shuttles that follow predetermined routes, such as those that connect airports with city centers.
Essentially, a quick and environmentally friendly mode of transportation for city mobility, freight, and emergency services is offered by Urban Air Mobility. Before these aircraft can be utilized safely, numerous technological and operational challenges must be cleared.
Shuttle services are anticipated to begin by 2030. Next-generation transportation directly integrating the shared economy and future Smart City concepts has a lot of potential for UAM.