The Next Transportation Revolution – Urban Air Mobility
COVID-19 has some reconsidering the ride-sharing model. Do you see this perception as a temporary or permanent shift, and how do you see it impacting the future of UAM?
Marjadi: People traveling by UAM is certainly being scaled back, but I see this as a temporary shift. My view, and I believe the industry’s perception, is that as we advance global virus treatment and prevention strategies, the world will still move toward shared mobility models. The benefits in terms of the environmental footprint, personal time-savings, easing of urban congestion, and cost to commuters remains extremely compelling. So, while public health remains paramount, I still see a bright future for UAM civilian transportation systems.
While human travel has scaled back significantly across all sectors, at the same time, demand for the transportation of goods is going up. We are all ordering much more online and it’s delivered directly to our home. UAM plays a significant role in that also.
The Amazon truck delivering packages to your house may soon be replaced by a fleet of drones who pick up small packages and deliver them right to your doorstep. That is more energy efficient, quieter, economical, and faster.
Another sector that is highly interested in eVTOL is the defense world. Because of its quiet nature, it’s not easily detectable and could more covertly and efficiently transport good and people to difficult-to-reach locations. The Department of Defense and defense companies worldwide are investing money in eVTOL vehicles for that reason.
You can even see it as great tool for disaster relief, getting supplies to a place that’s been hit by a natural disaster. You can imagine a shipload of equipment could be taken to an area hit by a hurricane, then have food and medical supplies flown to locations inaccessible to ground vehicles. Even search and rescue missions could be dramatically better, replacing a few helicopters with a swarm of small drones that could cover an area within a few hours.
What technical advances are needed in order to make electric-powered UAM a reality?
Marjadi: In the eVTOL world, the biggest challenge is creating a propulsion system that will deliver a higher number of passenger-miles between recharges. The current limitation is the power density and energy density of batteries. Those two numbers need to go up between four to 10 times in order to have a reasonable UAM system. Battery research is first and the foremost.
We also need efficient and safe battery management. We need to make sure that there are no thermal runaways within the battery that could lead to fire. Safety will be paramount to ensuring the success of this business.
After that, using the battery power for efficient motor, gearbox, and propulsion system operation is the remaining challenge. I believe the technology already exists to achieve this but putting it all together is a complex undertaking. Model-based system engineering is the key to optimizing the hundreds of (sometimes competing) mission requirements that go into designing an aircraft.
Do you have any predictions about whether you’ll personally take a UAM flight in your lifetime?
Marjadi: Actually, I think we all will be taking UAM flights within the next two to three years. Drones delivering packages are already happening in certain areas. You could say I’m optimistic, but programs are rolling out soon in Dallas, Los Angeles, Australia, Brazil, and all over the world. I would imagine my first drone-delivered package will come to me within the next six months and I believe human transport is absolutely coming sooner that people think.
Source: Altair Blog
Want to learn more about the design and development of eVTOL and UAM vehicles? Download the “Urban Air Mobility eGuide.”