Smart cities – the biggest allies (or antagonists) of UAM

Research into Urban Air Mobility is accelerating its uptake in Europe. AMU-LED for instance is looking into the capabilities of U-space to enable Urban Air Mobility –  answering questions related to the maturity of concepts and technology, what are the challenges, and what needs to be done  to implement this new form of mobility. One of these challenges is the designation of laws and regulation for drone operations, and more specifically, city legislation with respect to UAM. Drones will be overflying the skylines of cities soon enough, creating the need for a legal framework to regulate operations. While some cities are proactively taking up UAM, others are declaring their location off-limits and establishing no drone zones – is this a fair boundary or are they stopping innovation?

The cities that are proactively taking up UAM could be considered as change-drivers. These are early-adopting smart-cities that are not afraid of change but seek for it as to improve their quality of life. These cities are   able to see opportunities where others see threats, as they know of the large benefits that can come with innovation. On the other hand, there are also cities that feel less comfortable with change. These cities mostly see the possibility of failure within innovation and the risks that come with it – they are the late-comers. 

The interesting thing is that both the early adopters and the late comers detect the same challenges – their differences lie in how they react to them. Examples of these city challenges are e.g.,: how to protect the privacy of citizens, how to ensure that noise and visual pollution doesn’t affect their welfare, how to safeguard citizens and how UAM will affect city infrastructure. 

While early adopters and late comers clearly follow different approaches, both are understandable. Innovation and change are not always easy, and there are a lot of associated risks.  Moreover, part of this resistance could originate from the sometimes lack of collaboration between industry and cities. The latter are usually left behind in the conversation, unless they ask to get involved.  On top of that, the conversation around UAM is sometimes too technology focused, leaving the concerns of cities (and public acceptance) to secondary discussions. 

Organizations researching into UAM need to actively involve cities in their research, ask for their opinion, their concerns, and try to solve these in their research. Information sharing and collaboration is key for innovation, and it will be a necessary step for UAM to become a reality. In AMU-LED we are involving the city councils of all the cities we will fly in the conversation – not only to make the flights happen, but also to understand how can we deliver the best result for cities. 

Working together with cities on the topic of UAM will help to drive innovation and reduce their concerns, which in the end will help in creating a positive impact in cities and their quality of life. 


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