Last month I attended AIAA's Aviation Forum in Dallas, Texas. If you know me well, you know I love all things aviation from flying, to air traffic control, to airport design. The Aviation Forum is one of my favorite events of the year and this year was no different. Front and center throughout the week was the concept of Urban Air Mobility (UAM). If you're unfamiliar with the concept, think "The Jetsons," small aircraft zipping you from point to point throughout and between cities and suburban areas. Ready or not, here it comes!
While UAM may be in its infancy, there's no shortage of companies and organizations working to ensure its success, and for good reason. The UAM industry is estimated at a $500B market value. Critically though, if it's not done right the first time, it may be even further off than anyone realizes. The implementation of UAM is wrought with technical, logistical, policy, and infrastructure challenges. The biggest challenge however, is likely not with any of the components of the new system, but with society's acceptance (or lack thereof) of flying in small, unpiloted, automated aircraft. That's right. No pilot. You hop in, enter your destination, and off you go. I, for one, am all about it and can't wait until it becomes mainstream. That may be some time off, however. As automation continues to creep further into our lives, research, and probably your own personal experience indicates just how reluctant humans are to accepting automation and how long adoption into the mainstream can take.
But, if you think about it, elevators used to have operators and are now fully-automated. Passenger jets are about 95% automated but we still have at least 2 pilots at the controls. Trains or trams are becoming fully automated, particularly at airports. Do you think twice before you get on the tram shuttling you between terminals in Dallas, Orlando, Atlanta, or countless other airports across the globe? Cars and trucks are on their way to being fully-automated but I bet there are some steadfast concerns about getting into a fully-automated car or driving on the road alongside fully-automated cars. What is it that holds us back and prevents our unyielding trust in automation?! Failure. Accidents. Injury. Death. Ask Boeing. Those are simply the most headline-grabbing examples. Other examples you may not think of such as brand recognition, concern for dangerous or unruly passengers, privacy, presence or lack of a flight attendant, and cost are all part of the society's reluctance to accept UAM in the short term and hurdles that must be overcome. This is a great Market Study put together by our friends at Booz Allen Hamilton investigating such barriers to acceptance.
UAM has the opportunity to revolutionize the way we travel but it needs to be done right and it needs to be done well. It's entirely possible I won't even see UAM go mainstream in my lifetime, but it's certainly fun to consider the possibilities. What are you most concerned or excited about with automation becoming more prevalent in our everyday lives!?
Also… just look at how cool this is, https://lilium.com/.
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