The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has estimated that the number of passengers traveling by aircraft could double to 8.2 billion by 2037. According to the UN, 68% of the population is expected to live in urban areas by 2050. The growing number of vehicles in urban areas has resulted in several traffic and mobility issues, which in turn is driving the demand for alternative modes of transportation. UAM aircraft such as eVTOLs, VTOLs, and STOLs have emerged as effective alternatives in this regard.
Urban Air Mobility or UAM is a new system for air passenger and cargo transportation within a metropolitan area (including operations over densely populated urban areas). Air taxis are envisioned as an alternative for inter-city or intra-city traveling, providing a faster, and hopefully more efficient, alternative to land travel. They are not meant to replace airplanes, but mainly focus on short-distance trips.
Urban air mobility (UAM) can solve a myriad of transportation problems. This new technology, including electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, promises many benefits, such as reduced commuting times and urban congestion, and may introduce entirely new methods of transportation within and between cities in the coming decade.
The economic and societal benefits of UAM have been widely acknowledged. Using small vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicles in the third dimension to move people around cities as a form of transportation will reduce traffic, improve the environment and enhance overall quality of life. The cost of an eVTOL ride is lesser when compared to helicopters. Uber Elevate estimated that fully electric air taxis would have near-term operating costs of around USD 700 per hour, at least 35% less than a comparably utilized single-engine helicopter. Considering such benefits, the demand for UAM in urban mobility applications is expected to increase in the coming years.
Some eVTOL aircraft are most suitable for shorter trips over congested cities to avoid traffic. eVTOL aircraft also help with middle-mile and last-mile cargo delivery and medical services. Almost all the major companies in the logistics, ecommerce, food and transportation industries are looking to the skies to get their products to customers. Electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) passenger aircraft are poised to start providing the local taxi services that Uber and Lyft have so quickly capitalized on. These aircraft are being introduced into the market as ride-sharing aircraft.
Still, achieving success with UAM is a challenge with a number of technological, infrastructural and legal hurdles. While the most visible activities are vehicle projects, the realization of UAM requires breakthroughs in airspace operations, regulation, and community integration. However, it also creates new and complex safety challenges for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s aircraft certification process.
For instance, the safety of eVTOL technology especially drones needs to be proven to the public, so that adequate trust can be built between this technology and its user. Cargo drones powerful enough to carry people—and even cars—are now under development and may get certified before any flying car designed for passengers will. They may even pave the way for commercially viable flying cars by showing how safe and useful such a large craft can be.
Unlike cars, air taxis would not be able to take people directly point-to-point. Rather, it would be from one station to another. This means that integration between different modes of transport would need to be implemented in order to create an efficient and seamless travel experience. Urban aviation provide many opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs in vehicle development and manufacturing; flight and fleet operations; network operations; and skyport design, development and operations.
Technology Framework and requirements
UAM is enabled by advances in electric propulsion, autonomous flight technology and 5G communication networks. Today, advances in processing power, flight controls, electric energy storage and electric motors, to name a few, are informing a new breed of aircraft concepts. Concepts that share the tiltrotor’s benefits of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) and high-speed flight, but also concepts that use much simpler propulsion systems, making them affordable enough for large-scale commercial adoption.
An eVTOL aircraft is one that does not require a runway for takeoff. The technology framework for tomorrow’s on-demand mobility aircraft includes autonomy and artificial intelligence, electric or hybrid distributed propulsion, and advanced algorithms for integrated aero-acoustic, propulsive and flight controls.
For the vehicle, the airspace system, and for manufacturing, optimizing the use of man with machine can unlock new capabilities and efficiencies.
Artificial intelligence will be necessary to safely sense and avoid new obstacles inflight, or completely reroute the drone if the new conditions are extreme. This technology must also account for other aircraft to ensure there are no conflicting routes. Intelligent deconfliction technology can help solve this challenge by constantly updating a drone’s route to account for new hazards and changes in operating conditions. It has the potential to reduce customer ride time and costs. Additionally, we can increase the rate of demand fulfillment by optimizing flight operations.
For instance, unpredictable weather changes have an effect on aircraft’s journeys. We can forecast weather conditions and forecast weather patterns along critical routes using machine learning to ensure a safe and reliable journey.
Another task that machine learning can accomplish is precision landing. The precision landing makes use of vision-based position and map sources to enable a UAV to land with approximately ten-inch accuracy on a target. The UAV can output areas in sight that are suitable for emergency and normal landings via computer vision. The system is capable of monitoring obstacles on the ground in real time and identifying an obstructed runway.
Machine learning can provide critical insights to aid in the decision-making process for air traffic control systems. ATC systems must ensure that aircraft maintain a minimum separation distance in order to avoid separation loss. Additional factors to consider include the orderly transfer of planes between sectors, efficient fuel consumption, and an optimized landing sequence. Machine learning can assist in optimizing each of these elements. It is capable of learning the potential future of each flight and predicting potential conflicts.
Using machine learning, we can forecast traffic congestion in a given city in real time. This can be used to forecast demand for eVTOLs at various times of the day and in various geographical regions. Forecasting demand for eVTOLs is critical for manufacturers and city planners.
Predictive AI analytics will monitor the performance and behavior of drone fleets and return actionable insights. These insights can flag suboptimal operations and forecast vehicle health. For example, predictive models might determine that a specific drone’s battery, under specific weather and usage patterns, is likely to degrade after flying for 200 hours. When a drone is close to hitting 200 hours, AI can be used to automatically generate a maintenance request for a battery replacement and assign the request to a technician upon landing at a facility.
Big data can also be leveraged for VTOL flight, especially when combined with intelligence. Using machine learning and advanced algorithms, an aircraft can know about itself and impact how it flies on its own. For example, if the aircraft detects a blade damper needing repair, it could change the flight controls to take the load off of that part to extend the life of it.
One key technology focus area is the man-machine interface. Rapid progress in autonomy will change the way we fly, and ultimately what it means to be a pilot or aircraft operator. In reality, this change has been ongoing for many years, with the move from simple analog gauges to digital displays to today’s full glass cockpits, and from mechanical flight controls to fly-by-wire and fly-by-light controls and flight control systems that intelligently manage flight and compensate for aircraft failures.
The goals of autonomy in the vertical lift context are to:
- Eliminate the leading driver of VTOL accidents – degraded visual environment (DVE) / controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) contribute to 75% of all VTOL accidents
- Reduce pilot workload and enable crew reductions
- Enable flexibility in what aircraft can do
Beyond autonomous flight, it is also critical to consider remote monitoring and fleet management. In the ODM model, individual aircraft may be fully automated, but they will need to communicate seamlessly with air traffic controllers and with other aircraft. Implementing a high-speed, low-latency network connection is an innovation that can guarantee a seamless transmission of mission-critical information related to an in-flight trajectory.
A robust 5G cellular network will be imperative to enable communication among eVTOL aircraft, between eVTOLs and other flying objects, and between eVTOLs and control centers.
Energy and Propulsion
Propulsion systems have been a key enabler for nearly every breakthrough in aviation. The limiting factors today are battery energy densities and rapid charging capability without significant life degradation.
Energy storage: The ability to achieve commercially viable combinations of payload and range will require energy densities beyond the current state of the art. Battery energy densities have increased dramatically over the last years, but still lag significantly behind hydrocarbon fuels. Key areas for research include new chemistries or even storage systems for improved energy density, rapid recharge capability and reduced life degradation with recharge cycles.
Electronic hardware: Communication, navigation, separation and other key system functions are driven by electronic hardware and software. Low cost, low weight, high reliability sensors and electronic hardware can help enable these power and weight sensitive vehicles while ensuring safe operation in the airspace.
High voltage electrical power distribution and control: This research area is driven by the high-power requirements for vertical takeoff and landing combined with the need for light weight and high efficiency in the generation and distribution of the electrical propulsion power.
Last but not least, UAM manufacturers have to use robust and long-lasting material and components to guarantee an efficient and safe use in harsh conditions mainly related to bad weather.
The vehicles in UAM range from small drones to passenger aircraft with electrically powered vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) capabilities designed to fly small groups of travelers (typically nine or fewer) or cargo across metropolitan regions faster than ground vehicles.
NASA has developed the battery-powered GL-10, which take off and land vertically but flies efficiently like a conventional plane. The current prototype is a two-seater aircraft shaped like a conventional plane that uses a VTOL system. Commercial ventures — including Boeing-owned Aurora Flight Sciences, Airbus-affiliated Vahana and billionaire-backed Kitty Hawk — are already working on small-scale, electric-powered air vehicles designed for vertical takeoff and landing, or eVTOL aircraft. One of the leaders in the eVTOL race is Uber, which has laid out plans for air-taxi pilot projects in Dallas, Dubai and Los Angeles. Uber is aiming to start flying its partners’ first eVTOL aircraft between 2023 and 2024.
Aurora Flight Sciences, a subsidiary of aerospace giant Boeing, said in Jan 2019 that it recently conducted the first test flight of its all-electric autonomous passenger air vehicle. The unpiloted vehicle took off vertically, hovered for a few seconds, and then landed at the company’s test site in Manassas, Virginia. Boeing said that future flights will test forward, wing-borne flight, as well as the transition phase between vertical and forward-flight modes.
Airbus’ is currently operating its on-demand helicopter booking platform, Voom, in São Paulo and Mexico City. “In rush hour traffic, the journey to my hotel can take two hours,” says the Head of Programmes and Strategy for Urban Air Mobility (UAM). “With Voom It took me just 11 minutes of flight time.”
From a vehicle perspective we deliberately chose two different configurations for technology demonstration, says. Dr. Markus May, Managing Director Airbus Urban Mobility GmbH . On the one hand, Vahana as a singlepassenger vehicle with a tilt-wing configuration that is capable of flying 20 minutes with a 50 km range. On the other hand, CityAirbus was designed for four passengers and with the objective to test the electric propulsion system for this weight category. Distributed electric propulsion is completely opening up the conventional design space and there is a variety of vehicle configurations out there at this stage. And we know that autonomy will be a key enabler for a commercially viable transport service in the future.
In Jan 2020, during Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, the company calls the PAV—an autonomous electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle—the centerpiece of its urban air mobility vision for smart city transportation. Hyundai and Uber tapped specialty design-engineer-build firm Aria Group to bring the one-of-a-kind, carbon-fiber-intensive prototype aircraft from concept to reality.
In creating the Hyundai PAV, Irvine, California-based Aria engineered and built the craft’s moving horizontal control surfaces, sequenced lift rotors, articulating vertical-to-horizontal thrust rotors and vehicle lighting. The company also created complex carbon fiber structures and tooling and the complete assembly and shipping strategy, the show-stand concept and a complete electronic control system that cycles the aircraft through a complex demonstration of rotor movements and articulations to simulate the vehicle in flight
Electric propulsion systems for urban air mobility
There is a need for further technological advancement in eVTOL architecture for seamless Urban Air Mobility operations. The use of high-capacity energy batteries is among the important progress that should be made. Today, the batteries used in eVTOL can only power flights for short distances, such as from the airport to the city centers.
Urban air mobility is intended to provide more efficient movement of people and things within cities to improve safety and decrease ground traffic. It also offers opportunities in sustainability, as major advancements in materials, generators and motors, are making electric-powered flight possible, practical and affordable.
Honeywell and DENSO see urban air mobility vehicles as a key component of the future of mobility. DENSO has partnered with Honeywell to develop hybrid-electric and fully-electric propulsion systems for urban air mobility.
Removing the Effects of Noise Pollution with Electric Propulsion Systems
Small recreational drones are already loud enough to bother people, especially when away from the background noises of traffic, construction, and millions of other humans in an urban environment.
The drones that Amazon and Wing Aviation will use are enormous and much louder. Like recreational drones common today, they also have high frequencies caused by the very high speeds their rotors need to spin at. Swarms of drones in the sky – alongside fleets of eVTOL air taxis – will also all have slightly different frequencies. This means that the noise they make together will be even more annoying to humans – and potentially threatening to local ecosystems.
An ex-Uber employee saw noise as the main barrier to air taxis’ adoption but saw that not a lot of focus was put on reducing noise levels in the main developers’ plans. He recently unveiled his start-up, Whisper Aero, which is developing technology to reduce the risks of noise pollution that this rise in local air traffic poses.
The company is developing an electric thruster that blends the noise emitted from delivery drones and eVTOLs into background levels. This makes them almost imperceptible to the human ear. This product will be adaptable for all kinds of electric propulsion systems for flight.
Working to reduce the risk of noise pollution has wider benefits than easing public acceptance of drones and eVTOLs. Studies have clearly shown that noise exposure is a health risk. It can cause hearing impairment, hypertension, heart disease, and disturbed sleep.
Drone Cyber Security and data integrity
Advanced aerial mobility faces several cybersecurity concerns like threats to onboard networks and code; attacks on vehicle/air traffic control (ATC) datalinks; and the introduction of adversarial or incorrect data used for safety-critical decisions and/or machine learning.
Drones has many could be hacked if not secured properly, posing dangers when they’re flying above a crowd of people or a busy highway. Drones are vulnerable to many electronic and cyber attacks because of security loopholes in its wireless protocol , their operating system, telemetry between a mobile phone and the drone, or communications link between the drone and the manufacturer’s server.
In terms of vulnerability, advanced aerial mobility will depend on the operation of other complex software-intensive systems such as ATC, GPS, and various types of shared communication systems. Considering modeling and designing in safety, new approaches to cybersecurity are required to make urban air mobility a success. The paradigm changes that have been proposed for ensuring safety are also applicable to cybersecurity, but R&D is needed to develop new techniques to safeguard automated aerial vehicles from cyber threats.
AI-powered cybersecurity will be the key to detecting malicious activity on the edge and preventing it from making its way on to a drone or executing on it. Organizations need to shift their focus from post-breach response to early detection and autonomous response, which will generate a far more positive outcome for their organization and their stakeholders. In the cyber security context AI definitely helps perceive, identify vents and patterns in a much more predictive way so we can get a well defined output. AI-powered cybersecurity will be key in ensuring public safety by providing an adaptable system that protects against never-before-seen attacks.
At the Atlantic Council on Dec. 11, Roper also said he wants the Air Force to disseminate its non-mission critical cybersecurity technologies to commercial companies–technologies such as those developed under AFRL’s Agile and Resilient Embedded Systems (ARES) program. The latter features an embedded cybersecurity system for the service’s drones so that drone experts “don’t have to be cybersecurity experts as well to make their drones difficult to hack,” Roper said.
The use of distributed data storage technologies that implement consensus and trust will also be essential to the urban air mobility market. A distributed ledger of immutable transactions can ensure drone data and flight logs are stored securely and accurately.
The Unavailability of Landing Sites (Vertiports)
Air traffic is also much more heavily regulated than road traffic, meaning that policies and regulations need to be ironed out and tested before this type of transportation can be safely opened to the public. The FAA is working to keep pace with the industry by writing regulations as technology is being developed. In July 2020, the FAA NextGen office released a Concept of Operations for UAM aircraft that focused on aircraft operating in corridors.
FAA is currently reviewing applications for certifying eVTOL aircraft, using existing Federal Aviation Regulations for aircraft certification. However, these regulations are still primarily intended for traditional small aircraft with a pilot onboard, whereas eVTOL aircraft may be entirely autonomous. Additionally, UAM aircraft include new technology and novel systems compared to current small aircraft, requiring additional scrutiny during the certification process.
Today, many cities worldwide have air traffic control systems that monitor the activities of helicopters. The same systems can still come in handy when tracking hundreds of eVTOL (electric Vertical Take-off and landing) aircrafts. If eVTOL is to become a mass-market transportation system with thousands of flying taxis, then there will be a need to have a new airspace management system.
The system should also be designed so that the eVTOLs can sense everything around them and precisely identify the nearest flying taxi’s location. The introduction of mass transportation systems will also mean that cities have to develop public vertiports plans and offer subsidized prices for users of this new mass transportation system.
While the core of UAM is vehicle development, researchers also have colleagues working on influencing its public acceptance, others who work with city projects or are working in airspace management and regulations. We will not develop the entire infrastructure, but we will need to make sure this vehicle is integrated in this ecosystem, says Airbus engineer.
Urban Air Mobility Market
The urban air mobility market is projected to grow from USD 2.6 billion in 2022 to USD 28.3 billion by 2030, at a CAGR of 34.3% from 2022 to 2030.
The urban air mobility industry is driven by recent technology advances, the usage of UAMs in different civil and commercial applications, and considerable investments in emerging nations. Several cities are expected to adopt the new generation of transportation using unmanned technologies as a result of recent technology breakthroughs in urban air mobility.
Restraint: Psychological barriers pertaining to UAM
According to the NASA UAM Market Study – The Potential Societal Barriers of Urban Air Mobility report, the reactions of people to the UAM concept are neutral to positive. Men, younger respondents, and wealthier respondents tended to be more excited about the concept. However, none of the metropolitan areas displayed significance in the willingness-to-fly model. Another psychological barrier is that people believe the increasing use of new aircraft for air taxis, air ambulances, cargo deliveries, and last-mile delivery, among other applications, will result in job loss on a large scale. Passengers are also concerned about safety and security screening and would prefer UAM only for longer trips. To overcome these barriers, airlines and government agencies are trying to build awareness among the public to socially accept aircraft as a new mode of transportation.
Opportunity: Increasing environmental concerns
Transportation, which is responsible for significant energy consumption, is the second-largest polluting sector. Significant greenhouse gas emissions from this sector are adversely affecting the climate. Urban air mobility, which uses electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, can offer a viable solution for such problems. Recent technological developments in this sector are expected to offer promising growth opportunities, with cities adopting unmanned systems for next-generation transportation.
One of the missions of the IATA is to reduce the aviation industry’s emissions to net-zero carbon emission by 2050. This would be achieved through the use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and innovative new propulsion technologies (such as electric and hydrogen). According to the IATA, new propulsion technologies, such as hydrogen, can occupy 13%, and effective improvements will account for a further 3% of the market. Due to zero-emission demands, all industry stakeholders are also committed to addressing their environmental impact by changing their policies, products, and activities by taking concrete actions with clear timelines.
According to the IATA report on Net-Zero Carbon Emissions by 2050 (published in October 2021), SAF production is expected to be 91 billion liters (17% of total fuel requirement) by 2035. Electric and/or hydrogen aircraft for the regional market (50–100 seats, 30–90 min flights) will become available, and SAF production will be 229 billion liters (39% of total fuel requirement) by 2040. Hydrogen aircraft for the short-haul market (100–150 seats, 45–120 min flights) will become available by 2030. Considering these trends, in the coming years, the increasing environmental concerns will drive the demand for sustainable fuel aircraft such as UAM aircraft.
Based on platform, the air taxis segment is projected to grow at the highest CAGR from 2025 to 2030
Based on platform, the market has been segmented into air taxis, air shuttle and air metro, personal aerial vehicle, cargo air vehicle and last mile delivery. The last mile delivery segment is projected to lead the market during the forecast period, owing to delivery process which is most critical and should be well managed for the speedy shipping.
The propulsion systems segment is projected to grow at the highest rate in the forecasted period
Based on systems, the urban air mobility market has been segmented into aerostructures, avionics, propulsion systems, electrical systems, software. The propulsion systems segment of the urban air mobility market is projected to grow at the highest rate in the forecasted period. This growth is attributed to a number of power sources that can be used to power unmanned platforms. These include hybrid engines, batteries, cells that use combined power from fuels, solar energy, or chemical energy and fuel powered engines. The propulsion systems used in UAM platforms influence their range and altitude.
Key Market Players
Some of the key players profiled in the urban air mobility market report include Wisk Aero (US), Lilium (Germany), EHang (China), Jaunt Air Mobility (US) and Volocopter (Germany). Various players such as Leonardo S.P.A (Italy), Workhorse Group (US), Eve air mobility (US), Opener (US), and Kittyhawk (US) among others, are prominent players operating in the urban air mobility market.
The players are mostly engaged in new product launches & developments and having a strong global presence will enhance their position in the urban air mobility market. These players are primarily focusing on entering new markets by launching technologically advanced and cost-effective platforms and infrastructure. Apart from new product launches & developments, these players also adopted the partnerships contracts, & agreements strategy.
Elasticopter: Hyderabad researcher’s ‘breakthrough’ drone can adjust to the payload
An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with adjustable arms, making it able to lift packages of different sizes and shapes, is the latest innovation from the researchers of the Robotics Research Center (RRC) at the International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT-H) in Hyderabad. ‘Elasticopter’, a patent-pending design developed by 24-year-old Suraj Bonagiri, is considered a big breakthrough in drone technology. As drones are designed for unique purposes and to carry specific payloads, any forcible fitting, and lifting of inappropriate payloads will lead to instability, inefficiency, and even compromise safety, Suraj says.
Suraj’s prototype is a rectangular-shaped drone with four propellers and a flexible chassis (that expands and collapses) that does not cause mid-air turbulence despite its adjustments. “In our design, there is zero prop wash interference with the payload no matter its size. In this method of attachment to cargo, the mass is always centered and leads to optimal battery performance,” says Suraj, crediting Prof Spandan Roy and Prof Madhava Krishna for guiding him.
“Much research has gone into ensuring stability while flying. What we have is a pick and place drone suitable for material movement. While weight carrying capacity is only one factor, the variability of weight is the biggest factor. This drone has a wide range of applications in the future,” he told indianexpress.com. He noted that a lot of research currently underway at the RRC is focused on autonomous navigation and control of terrestrial as well as aerial vehicles.
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