Have you ever wondered how would it be to fly to school or work? In the next 3 to 5 years it could become a possibility.
Urban Air Mobility (UAM) envisions a safe and efficient aviation transportation system that will use highly automated aircraft that will operate and transport passengers or cargo at lower altitudes within urban and suburban areas. UAM will be composed of an ecosystem that considers the evolution and safety of the aircraft, the framework for operation, access to airspace, infrastructure development, and community engagement.
Multiple companies such as Airbus, Volocopter, Lilium, and Hyundai (in partnership with Uber) are working to develop a drone that will transport us across the city. These autonomous drones should reduce pollution, traffic and make the city a better place to live. All of these companies are creating eVTOL and intelligent drones that could be ordered just like a taxi, through an app. These vehicles will operate in a specific ecosystem that will utilize helicopter-like infrastructures such as routes or helipads.
Most of the drones use a multicopter configuration or a so-called tilt-wing convertiplane. The first type uses only rotors with a vertical axis, while the second additionally have propulsion and lift systems for horizontal flight. Airbus stated that their electrical motors will work at around 950rpm to ensure a low acoustic footprint and will have a cruise speed of 120km/h on fixed routes with up to 15 minutes of autonomy. Because of low autonomy, Volocopter is proposing detachable battery packs that could be recharged at a special voltage in heliports. According to Volocopter most of the drones will fly within the city, on distances of 35 km, because this distance is the most usual radius for a city (for example New York has a radius of 32km, London has a radius of 30km and Dubai has a radius of 35km).
These drones can be remotely controlled or autonomous, this means they will incorporate systems like infrared cameras, electro-optic cameras, long-range radar, and altimeter. An autopilot will control the speed and the path that the drone will have but artificial intelligence will take decisions without the requirement of any external assistance even in failure scenarios. Urban Air Mobility (UAM) envisions a safe and efficient aviation transportation system that will use highly automated aircraft that will operate and transport passengers or cargo at lower altitudes within urban and suburban areas. UAM will be composed of an ecosystem that considers the evolution and safety of the aircraft, the framework for operation, access to airspace, infrastructure development, and community engagement. Using this method the average price for a route will be attractive from the start but they will decrease over time and become as expensive as a normal taxi or just a little bit more expensive.
Also, companies like Amazon or Volocopter work on delivery drones, that will substitute cars for last-mile delivery and will provide faster and cheaper delivery for small and medium businesses. These drones will have special compartments where will be loaded but the bigger challenge is to make them land anywhere.
EASA already has some regulations regarding the flight of drones in urban areas and the EU wants to become a leader in this area. The latest studies of the societal acceptance of UAM operations show a positive initial attitude to UAM throughout the EU and strong support for use cases that are valuable to all. EU citizens also have expectations regarding cleaner cities, safety, and cybersecurity. Also, EASA conducted regulatory activities and, as of 2021, we have airworthiness regulations regarding small VTOL Unmanned aircraft, operations, and pilot licensing regulations, and airspace integration regulatory package.
We can say that drones are the future of urban mobility but are the cities ready for a traffic jam in the air or are the people truly ready to adopt this kind of transportation? The time will tell and in a few years, we will see the results of hundreds of people that worked in the past years to make our commute faster and greener.
If you want to learn more about the vision of EASA about the future of UAM follow this link.