In recent years, the concept of urban air mobility has gained lots of attention, particularly with the rise of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and drones.
Urban air mobility refers to the use of air transportation systems in urban areas, to move people and goods in a safe, efficient, and sustainable manner. The potential of urban air mobility is vast, as it promises to revolutionise the way we move and transport goods in everyday life.
One of the most promising applications of urban air mobility is in the delivery of goods.
E-commerce has exploded in recent years, and the demand for faster and more efficient delivery methods has increased. Just think about how many packages and parcels you yourself order in a typical month, and now think about your street, your town, your county… the logistical network that exists to ensure your goods are sourced, dispatched, and delivered overnight in most cases, is truly mind-blowing.
Drones could potentially revolutionise the way we receive our packages as they are faster, more efficient, and have a smaller carbon footprint than traditional delivery methods.
Companies such as Amazon, Google, and UPS are already investing in drone technology and testing their suitability for industrial and domestic delivery services. In December 2013, during a research project of Deutsche Post AG subsidiary DHL, a quantity of medicine weighing less than a kilogram, was delivered via a prototype drone, pointing towards disaster relief as the first industry to potentially adopt this delivery method.
However, there are still an enormous amount of regulatory and safety issues that need to be addressed before we see widespread drone delivery across our towns and streets.
Another potential application of urban air mobility is as a surface transport alternative. Imagine being able to avoid traffic jams by taking to the sky in an air taxi. This air ride service could significantly reduce commuting times and improve mobility in congested urban areas.
Companies such as Uber and Airbus are already working on developing air taxis and have conducted successful test flights. However, there are still many challenges that need to be overcome, such as regulatory safety issues and basic infrastructure which doesn’t exist. If you think about our transition to electric road vehicles and the lack of charging ports in our already developed highways, imagine the innovation and investment needed to roll out passenger drones.
The future of urban air mobility is not limited to drones and air taxis. There are many other applications that could change the way we live and work. For example, UAVs could be used to transport supplies to disaster areas or remote locations. Helicopter ambulances could provide emergency medical services in congested urban areas where surface transport is slow or damaged, say – following an earthquake or severe storm. Urban air mobility could also be used for inspections and maintenance of infrastructure, such as bridges and power lines, or for monitoring wildlife populations and environmental changes. We are already starting to see drones being used more widely in urban areas, for example – during live broadcasts of large capacity events. Formula 1, Football Tournaments, The Masters, and so on. Drones give a birds eye view of the events to TV audiences, and if they can already carry heavy and complex broadcasting equipment, it’s only a matter of time before they’re adapted to regularly transport other consumer payloads.
As for now, safety is the biggest and main concern, as drones and air taxis will be sharing airspace with aircraft and helicopters. Regulations need to be put in place to ensure that these new air transport technologies are used safely and responsibly. Additionally, and as mentioned before, infrastructure will need to be developed to support the use of these new and sophisticated means of travel and transport. This would include landing pads, charging stations and invisible highways or airways, literally. A safe air passage, which can be monitored, policed and utilised to fit in with our existing movements and way of life.
After tackling the numerous safety and regulatory requirements, the other issue will be public perception. Many people are wary of the idea of drones and air taxis flying over their homes and workplaces. They have concerns about noise pollution and privacy. These concerns need to be addressed to gain public acceptance.
Likewise, the cost of implementing urban air mobility infrastructure and services will be a significant barrier to adoption. If the development of HS2 or Heathrow’s 3rd runway is anything to go by, the delivery of urban air mobility to our communities may struggle to take off at all.
Despite these challenges, the potential of urban air mobility is vast. It is exciting to think that this futuristic concept of moving and transporting goods in urban areas, could be coming to our doorsteps within this decade. And if it does, it should significantly improve mobility, reduce congestion, and lower carbon emissions.
The introduction of urban air mobility will require a collaborative effort between industry, government, and the public to ensure that it is implemented in a safe, responsible, and sustainable manner.
In conclusion, urban air mobility is a captivating and rapidly developing field that we hope continues to evolve and become realised. The benefits are quite significant, so long as the safety and regulatory issues are resolved. Whilst we might not witness our next Amazon Prime order being flown to our door; we are already seeing more UAVs and drones in our urban areas, and if their application can help deliver urgently needed aid in humanitarian crisis or to monitor the habitat of endangered species, amongst other worthwhile applications, then we fully support and look forward to its successful development and implementation.