Drones have burst into our society with lightning speed. Their multiple applications suit the needs of the 21st century offering new possibilities for business in civil and noncivil applications. Logistics, agriculture, medical purposes, wildlife conservation, pollution control, emergencies and even transport of passengers and goods, among others, are already available or expected to be a reality in the near future. The advantages are clear, increasing efficiency and productivity, decreasing workload and production costs and resolving security issues are a few of the major advantages drones offer. Nevertheless, the challenges for a safe integration are also there. What does a city need to be UAM friendly?
To answer that question and help society to trust in drones, projects such as AMU-LED are working to test UAS operation in an urban environment, in summary, Urban Air Mobility operations. This work serves to identify what needs to be solved and to approach the future scenario of urban air operations. The future of UAM will be marked mainly by the integration of this new form of mobility in everyday life and the adaptation of the city ecosystem, which require some essential elements.
First of all, it is clear that specific services are urgently needed to control and handle the ever-increasing air traffic and support a safe, efficient and secure access to airspace for large numbers of drones. The large volume of aircraft, manned and unmanned, makes the future air transportation system more complex. Thus, innovative, multifaceted, multidimensional air traffic management is required for smooth operations of UAVs and other air vehicles. In urban areas, complex environments with numerous buildings and high population density, air traffic management is even more complex. In this sense, AMU-LED is testing different state-of-the-art UTM tools developed by some of their partners (NTT Data, ITG, Airbus, ANRA y Altitude Angel) that could be seen in our cities in the coming years.
In addition, as discussed in previous posts, there is a need to developed and deploy bespoke CNS and ground infrastructure such as vertiports within our cities. A joint work between city authorities, technology providers and operators is needed to assess the best approach for each location. One size does not fit all. Currently, the basic fundamentals of vertiports concept are mimicking other well-known infrastructures (e.g., airports and heliports). However, there are certain particularities associated with the characteristics and performance of VTOLs and new business cases that are under studied and will be applied in the new concepts. It is essential to execute R&D Projects like AMU-LED and validate the concepts and technology in relevant scenarios and sandboxes, such as urban test sites (e.g., ITG´s urban test site under development in A Coruña). This serves as a starting point and reference for the progressive and studied deployment of these vertiports, ensuring a safe integration aligned with regulations and standards.
It should not be forgotten that in order to integrate urban operations safely and securely, a key factor is to involve the cities. The support and active participation of cities is an important factor. This is the reason why initiatives such as The UAM Initiative Cities Community (UIC2) of the EU’s Smart Cities Marketplace or inviting municipalities to R& Projects are essential. In the case of AMU-LED, for example, we count with Amsterdam city as a full partner and with the implication of other cities such as Santiago de Compostela. Both play a key role to engage with the citizens and ensure that social acceptance is not taken for granted.
Last but not least, UAM will have to gain public acceptance to become a reality. The first step towards public acceptance is sharing knowledge, society doesn’t know enough about drones. When people understand that drones are helping, perceptions change and public acceptance increases. To this end, among other actions, an international study will be carried out within AMU-LED to look into how to address the challenges of social acceptance and integrate drones within society. The outcomes will be made available in different formats so all UAS community can take advantage of them.
As in previous posts, much remains to be done in the coming years, but we are getting closer to the final goal. Future demos of AMU-LED project will try to validate previous points and share knowledge so UAM becomes a reality.