URBAN AIR MOBILITY: THE FUTURE OF INTERCITY TRANSPORT
The latest chapter in the evolution of human travel takes the shape of electric and autonomous vehicles.
Throughout recorded history, the one constant has been an interconnected world constantly in motion. As a species, we are migratory creatures, explorers by nature, rovers, and voyagers. The patterns of human behaviour have changed very little; the change has evolved in how we move, not whether or not we move.From walking, to taming animals, to the invention of the wheel, to the industrial revolution and the invention of trolleys, cars and subways the next frontier to human movement in the urban environment is obviously in the air.
Anyone who has recently driven through the city of Athens or has taken a glance at the morning news on traffic, is a witness to the inability of cities to rapidly scale up their transport systems in order to manage a surging population.
The mass production of personal automobiles has been hailed as the greatest game changer in personal transportation that the world has ever seen. However, we now know better. Cars are an inefficient tool for changing urban landscapes. They are expensive, depreciate rapidly, and destroy roads. They are also significant polluters to cities where large-scale public transit is not readily available, convenient or reliable. On top of this, roadways are incredibly expensive to build and maintain and they also are dealing with finite real estate. Yet, despite knowing the adverse effects of road traffic, fossil fuel extraction, carbon emissions and even the trouble that finding a parking spot can offer, it is unlikely that anyone will be willing to give up the freedom of their personal vehicles, and frankly, most cities in Greece, or throughout the world for that matter, are not built around the use of public transportation.
The real solution is taking personal mobility three-dimensional; the solution is urban air mobility. People have been sold on the concept of a personal aerial vehicle for decades, with flying car concepts reaching back to the Curtiss Autoplane in 1917, with little comercial progress being made.
There are two major factors that have limited the widespread adoption of any UAM using traditional personal aircraft: cost and skill. Personal aircrafts are far too costly to be considered as a commuting vehicle by almost everyone. They also require a considerable skill to become competent enough to safely operate them. Also, the infrastructure required to house them and operate them in the intercity environment is nonexistent.
Personal UAM automated aircraft will not require any skill from their users; they will be all pre-canned. The passenger can remain a passenger. There is no need to study airspace, emergency procedures, or anything else. It is as simple as requesting an Uber.
At least, in the beginning, it is expected that passenger UAVs will operate in much the same infrastructure as helicopters; low level paths, visual routes produced to segregate slow, low-level traffic into specific corridors away from congested terminal areas.
The major roadblock in the implementation of UAM, even on a small scale, is the regulatory environment. The purpose of the governing bodies, namely EASA in Europe, is to be risk-averse, which is why personal private aircraft remain expensive and out of reach for most people. A slew of start-ups is rapidly developing the technology for UAM, and they are already providing solutions. The technology of aircraft will only continue to improve quickly, the building blocks to autonomous flight are already there; the concept works and will change the landscape of personal intercity transportation.