Why are UAV drones key for urban air mobility?

One of the most important concerns about urban air transportation is how UAM vehicles are going to be controlled. The most promising idea is to take solutions from UAV drone development.

To successfully operate in city areas, urban air transportation needs to be as safely as possible. Potential pilots of urban air taxi would meet various challenges. Less risky option is to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to operate in such conditions. This is the reason why unmanned technologies are crucial for the future of urban air mobility.

How can UAV drones contribute to UAM development? 

As a term, UAV has been displaced by a more popular “drone”. In fact, an unmanned aerial vehicle refers to any remotely controlled aircraft. Every drone, no matter of its purpose, is in fact an UAV. The industry of such vehicles has grown largely during the last five years. Drones became an important part of the aviation industry. Why is the key position of unmanned aerial vehicles crucial for the development of urban air mobility?

Flying in urban areas is not an easy task. Putting a human pilot at the controls of such a vehicle may be risky. To safely operate in a city environment, urban air mobility aircraft have to be remotely controlled. Only as an unmanned aerial vehicle, UAM aircraft can run without causing any trouble in your city. Does that mean people’s dreams about private cars won’t come true?

How will unmanned air transportation work? 

Today, it is still hard to say how the future urban air mobility market will look like. The most possible scenario is using UAM solutions strictly for public transport. This way, unmanned aircraft are going to work as on-demand flying service. People will be able to call it just like today’s urban taxis or ride-hailing service.

There is, however, a place for private urban air mobility UAVs in this situation. Someone could buy such a vehicle for his own use only. It would have cost them a lot, and they still wouldn’t be able to operate such aircraft by themselves. This idea of private urban air mobility vehicles would be similar to modern self-driving solutions, like Tesla Autopilot for example.

UAV technological inspirations 

But self-driving isn’t the only notable concept that could be borrowed from UAV development. The drone industry has a lot to offer when it comes to used technologies and materials. Almost a decade of constant improvements has made drones the perfect aircraft to operate in almost any conditions. Some of those solutions may help urban air mobility developers to provide a suitable vehicle for urban travels.

Over the last years, UAVs became lighter, quieter and more energy efficient. Transferring said achievements into the development of urban air mobility will make future flying services a lot more comfortable. Today, we still have to rely on helicopters when it comes to urban air travels. But soon, UAVs capable of carrying people will exit the prototype stage and become widely available in city areas.


The three biggest questions about urban air mobility future

Urban air mobility is a fascinating concept which can change city travels forever. It can make humanity’s dreams about flying cars come true. But are people ready for such a revolution?

Invention of aircraft was a milestone in the history of transportation. Ability to take to the skies has reshaped our civilization. However, it took some time for people to fully adapt to those new technologies. Today, traveling on long distances by airplane is a common thing. How long does it take people to get used to urban air mobility? After all, a flying car still seems like a science fiction idea. What needs to be changed? Let’s answer the three most important questions about when will UAM become available worldwide.

Are urban air mobility vehicles ready to travel? 

Let’s start with the very basis of every transport: a vehicle. We talked about urban mobility aircraft in our various articles before. The aircraft used for air transportation need to be reliable enough to operate in the complicated urban environment. It has to be light, quiet and safe for the surrounding. The best solution to match all those requirements is an electric, unmanned aerial vehicle.

Currently, the work on “flying car” development is very advanced. Many companies, like Uber or Airbus have already presented functional urban air mobility prototypes. They still need more practical tests in actual urban areas. However, from the technological point of view, vehicles like Volocopter or City Airbus are ready to fly.

Are cities ready for UAM solutions? 

As you can see, UAM vehicles are well prepared for work. Far more complicated matters are cities themselves. To enable UAM travels, governments must make some necessary legislation preparations. As for now, there are no regulations concerning UAM solutions in most cities around the world. Without them, traveling by flying car will be simply illegal.

There is also a matter of city design. As a completely new mode of transportation, urban air mobility vehicles need special infrastructure to operate. Even as vertical take-off and landing aircraft (VTOL), flying cars must have some designated places to land. As electric vehicles, they will also need to have some special docking stations to recharge batteries.

Are we ready for urban air mobility? 

Finally, the last question concerns us. Are people ready to travel by urban air vehicles? After all, they do not resemble people’s imaginations about a flying car. In practice, UAM vehicles are going to be more like autonomous, unmanned flying taxicabs. Owning such aircraft is likely to be a rare situation. And operating an urban air mobility vehicle by private pilot will simply be impossible due to safety considerations.

But it doesn’t mean that UAM solutions are going to be less popular. We are already traveling by on-demand services in city areas on our daily basis. Urban air mobility will simply take taxicabs and ride-hailing services on a literally higher level. Such a solution will surely make city travels a lot faster and easier.


How commercial and military drones contributed to the UAM?

Drone industry is a source of inspiration for urban air mobility development. Solutions drawn from commercial or military drones help to make UAM vehicles more reliable and functional.

To develop the best possible vehicles, urban air mobility designers need to draw inspirations from all branches of aviation industry. Last time we talked about the connections between the UAM and helicopters. Today, we take a look on the commercial and military drones.

Groundbreaking technology of military drones  

Various modern technologies have their origins in experimental military research. From space rockets to computers, many essential achievements of our civilizations began in the military. Drones have also begun their career there. The work of the US Army on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) contributed to the development of the common drone industry.

Because of the nature of their tasks, military drones have always needed to be the pinnacle of modern technology. Those vehicles have to operate in various, challenging conditions. It is a perfect test for the technology used in military drones production. Experience gained in that field can be extremely useful in the further development of the urban air mobility vehicles

Commercial drones – an example of safe urban vehicle 

However, military drones are not the only part of the drone industry which influence the UAM development. Urban air mobility companies can draw a lot of inspiration from modern commercial drones. Today, they are the most popular type of unmanned aerial vehicle. People use commercial drones in various situation. But why they are so important for UAM development?

In many cases, commercial drones have to operate in the city areas. To create a suitable aircraft for this environment, drone industry designers need to take various conditions into consideration. Thanks to their research, these vehicles are safe for the surrounding. Commercial drones should also be quiet and finally, they have to be energy efficient.

Inspirational example of military drones 

Both commercial and military drones are perfect source of useful information for urban air mobility designers. First can help to develop a vehicle capable of operating in urban areas. After all, UAM aircraft need to be as safe as commercial drones seen in our cities. On the other hand, all important detail provided by military drone researches may help to create a versatile aircraft.

The drone industry is a perfect inspiration for the UAM for one more reason. It proves how quickly people can adapt to new technologies. Few years ago, drones seemed to be a prototype vehicle straight from science fiction movies. They were far too expensive, or even unobtainable for common people. Today drones are integral part of our lives. It is a proof that urban air mobility vehicles may become common thing sooner than we can expect.


Helicopters — the first urban air mobility vehicles

The UAM industry is full of fantastic prototypes of urban air mobility vehicles. But before we start to use them, we need to depend on helicopters.

There are plenty of urban air mobility vehicles ideas. Most of them aim to utilize drone technologies and other groundbreaking solutions. However, the most popular aircraft in the UAM industry right now is the old, good helicopter. What is the key to its success? And will helicopters be eventually replaced by new urban air mobility vehicles?

Helicopter — the first VTOL aircraft

By its definition, helicopters suit very well into the idea of urban air mobility. Those vehicles are in fact the first functional VTOL aircraft ever made by human hand. For those who are unfamiliar with this term, VTOL aircraft translate directly into “vertical take-off and landing”. This ubiquitous vehicle has been with us for almost a century.

The key to the success of helicopters lies in their versatility. Unlike planes, helicopters don’t need a runway to take-off and land. It greatly expands their capabilities, allowing them to operate in environments not available for other aircraft. Being a VTOL aircraft makes helicopters a perfect urban air mobility vehicle to begin with.

Uber helicopter and other on-demand services 

While more advanced urban air mobility vehicles are still under development, helicopters are perfect VTOL aircraft to show how the UAM works in practice. Thanks to their capability of vertical landing, they can operate in urban areas. That’s why some companies from the urban air mobility industry have decided to use helicopters for urban air taxi services.

Probably the most notable example is the Uber helicopter project named Uber Copter. The initiative is a part of the larger Uber Air project, and it means to show the potential of UAM vehicles. It enables urban air travels carried by Uber helicopters on a limited route in New York. Other notable on-demand helicopter service is Voom, developed by Airbus as a part of their own urban air mobility project

Precursor of urban air mobility vehicles

Despite their versatility, helicopters still have some flaws. They are large, loud, and they need a well-practiced pilot to operate safely in the city environment. Still, they are an important stage in the development of urban air mobility vehicles. They allow us to see how VTOL aircraft work in urban areas. It is an extremely helpful way to convince people to UAM.

Further development of urban air mobility will eliminate most troubling disadvantages of helicopters. Lighter and more reliable electric VTOL aircraft will be even more versatile than them. Moreover, autonomous, remote control will eliminate the need for capable human pilots. It will also significantly reduce the risk of an accident. But before we will be able to travel in more advanced UAM vehicles, we need to rely on projects like Uber helicopter to show society how UAM works.