home Future Cities, Technology & Innovation, Transport In pursuit of global urban air mobility

In pursuit of global urban air mobility

The densely populated and congested gargantuan megapolis of New York, Tokyo, Beijing, Sao Paolo, Jakarta, Manila, etc. during the rush hours give one a premonition of what is closest to a traffic nightmare could be.

Increased urbanization makes the city streets a jam of vehicles, a ragtag of movement if you wish, that makes cities blur during the rush hours. Street congestion costs cities billions of dollars both in time and resources. In Europe alone, traffic congestion costs almost 100 billion euros annually. It is said that every American lose 42 hours annually due to traffic jam.

Whether we like it or not, the cities are the future nuclear hub of human settlement; in 2030, 60% of all human population will be situated in cities. In a world where increased urban settlement is constantly growing, urban mobility is a pressing concern.

The problem is on the ground, but the solution is on the skies.

So what lies above us?

Not too long ago, the prospect of flying vehicles rooftop-hopping the cityscapes fascinated everyone’s imaginations. What was first thought of as a science-fiction has now become a ground reality and is ready to conquer the air. Flying taxis whizzing above the air are ready to set sail to our skies.

The race to conquer the skies is an air-tight competition among existing giant companies such as Silicon Valley Airbus, Boeing and some lesser-known aviation start-ups.

On December 2017, Volocopter (VC-200), a German-designed air taxi by the start-up E-Volo, ferried off a passenger in remotely piloted test flight. That same year, another German start-up Lilium, developed a five-seater electric jet that can take off and land vertically. It completed its first unmanned journey in an hour.

On January 31, 2018, Airbus Silicon Valley’s first driverless flying taxi, the Vahana, took its first successful flight lasting about a minute descending safely after hovering 16 feet off the ground.  Zach Lovering, the man-in-charge of the Vahana project, said the goal of the project is to “design and build a single electric VTOL self-piloted aircraft that will answer the growing need for urban mobility.”

A few days thereafter, on February 8, 2018, the Chinese start-up E-Hang, released its first video of a man embarking aboard a Chinese autonomous jumbo drone and taking off with a push of a button. Acclaimed as the world’s first electric-powered passenger drone, E-Hang 148, is a demonstration that Chinese start-up is at par, if not ahead, with their US and European counterparts in producing new generation of aircraft. Derrick Chiong, E-Hang’s co-founder, describes the vehicle as the “first of its kind.”

These new generations of urban aircrafts which will sooner be released in the market are expected to facilitate the mobility of goods, people and ideas easier, faster and safer.

Uber has unveiled plans to create electric flying taxis that can be used to navigate cities and avoid congested streets. The controversial ride-hailing app says it plans to create vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) crafts that can be summoned at the push of a button in the same manner as their current car service. The car-hailing company has announced it will work with a range of aviation firms to launch its Elevate scheme in two cities, Dallas and Dubai, and says it hopes to have the first demonstration of the new urban air network ready by 2020

Catalytic or Disruptive?

The new technology will certainly have inevitable effects on how people live and work in cities. It will in a number of ways, shape existing societal norms and institutions.

On one hand, city traffic will now become an anachronism. People can travel with ease. One can depart from point A and reach destination B in a matter of an hour which normally used to take 4 hours because of traffic congestion in the road.

Hailing taxi on the road might as well become a thing of the past. Have you ever thought of booking flights through an on-demand urban network using a mobile app technology waiting for the available flying taxi on-grid while chilling out in a dense area of the CBD? Think of the air version of Uber and Grab!

In a future of plasticity and fluidity, the mobility of people, goods and ideas offer nothing but more freedom and societal benefits. People’s ways of lives will be greatly transformed in a magnitude formerly beyond a pale of one’s imagination.

Think of business deals being perfected after an hour of “on-air negotiation” while on-board the lightweight flying aircraft or perhaps a “romantic air date” and a subsequent “sky marriage proposal.”

The possibilities are endless, but one thing is certain—people’s transport lifestyles might never be the same as before.

Be that as it may, challenges ahead need to be hurdled. Existing air space regulatory framework is not in keeping with the new technology. This necessitates new legal and regulatory policies on certification, pilot training, air traffic management systems, and ground infrastructures. Making the new industry user-friendly in its consumer-interface tools and a host of other related services are likewise to be put in place.

But just like any new technology, the hurdles are always there, but they are sooner or later resolved in quick fashion in keeping with progress’ fast-paced march. Soon enough, not only are autonomous vehicles a common sight in the road, but also flying taxis hitting the air traffic.

Ready to take off?

The dream to fly is as old as humanity itself. In Greek mythology, two men, Daedalus and Icarus were able to escape the wrath and enmity of a tyrant by making pairs of wings made from birds’ feathers, with the latter however failing to escape from the flames of Apollo.

In 1903, the Wright brothers propelled the first real technical flight and gave humanity its first wing.

A hundred years hence, the last hurdle is all set to be overcome: democratizing flight making it available to everyone anytime.

Ready to take-off? Get on-board. Fasten your seatbelt and get a glimpse of the cityscapes in the future.

Source: CNN Tech, The Verge

Photo: newatlas.com, airbus-xo.com

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