In a few years, urban air mobility will be a reality, allowing people to conveniently move more conveniently within and between cities.
What if the future had ambulances transporting patients and critical medicines by air? What if firefighters could fight fires safely and efficiently without putting human lives in danger?
A future where people can travel more quickly and efficiently from one point to another, with better and optimized services for cities and their residents, is not a mere vision – it is a reality that will reach us in a matter of years: the Urban Air Mobility (UAM).
UAM is a transformational mobility concept for urban areas, using various types of drones to carry out any type of mission that aims to improve the well-being of individuals and organizations.
And integrating these large future drones safely into urban airspace requires a lot of coordination and a lot of testing. Faced with this need, in the coming months, the European AMU-LED project will carry out several demonstration flights in urban environments in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Spain.
One of the main enablers of UAM is U-space, an air traffic management framework to enable secure integration of drones. Like the air traffic management system for aircraft in general, U-space will ensure that drone operations are carried out safely and efficiently.
However, the system will be more automated than current air traffic control, with less human interaction and the ability to handle more flights simultaneously.
U-space can be defined as a set of specific services and procedures designed to ensure safe and efficient access to airspace for a large number of drones that incorporate high levels of digitalization and automation.
Scenarios in urban environments
Much work has been put into the development of U-space and UAM through research and innovation projects and technological developments. One such initiative is AMU-LED – a large-scale demonstration project (VLD) funded by the SESAR Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
The AMU-LED will demonstrate the safe integration of manned and unmanned aircraft through the deployment of U-space, with the ultimate goal of making increasingly sustainable smart cities a reality. This will be done by conducting flight demonstrations with various scenarios, situations and use cases in urban environments .
In these demonstrations, the project will use large electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) platforms to transport passengers and cargo, combined with smaller Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) , performing delivery of goods and medical supplies, surveillance or support for emergency services. .
The project started two years ago in January 2020 with two main objectives to demonstrate the safe interaction of the UAM with other airspace users and to demonstrate the safe flight of the UAM.
After thorough preparation, the flight demonstrations that will take place inside the AMU-LED can be considered as the final product of the project, putting into practice the concept of operations, use cases, scenarios, system architecture and the U-space system that will be defined in the project.
“Having done an impressive amount of work, where our consortium conceived and implemented cutting-edge operations concepts for UAM, prepared futuristic use cases, but at the same time, like air transport or last mile parcel delivery, and traffic not innovative manned vehicle integrated with management services, we are finally ready to take off”, explains Pablo Menéndez-Ponte Alonso, leader of the UTM project at NTT DATA Spain, who coordinates the European consortium of 17 different entities participating in the AMU-LED project.
There will be seven operations in total, taking place over the course of this Northern Hemisphere summer 2022, held in Cranfield , UK, Amsterdam, Enschede and Rotterdam , Netherlands, and Santiago de Compostela , Spain.
“Cranfield is our first demonstration as it will allow us to understand the readiness of this technology when facing the real challenge,” said Alonso.
The variety of locations allows the project to test and demonstrate various relevant aspects in different ways, for example, evaluating the most efficient way of exchanging information between actors (such as drones, their pilots and the air traffic management system).
The project will test two different concepts for distributing relevant data: a centralized and a decentralized architecture. The decentralized architecture will be tested in Cranfield, Enschede and Rotterdam, and the centralized architecture will be tested in Amsterdam and Santiago de Compostela.
The information to be exchanged concerns all types of data, for example strategic and tactical information before and during the flight, tracking data (real-time information on the drone’s position), tactical conflict resolution advice service (information to avoid conflicts before and during the flight) and meteorological and CNS (Communication, Navigation and Surveillance) data.
What can you expect during demonstrations?
Furthermore, as U-space and UAM are still concepts in development, AMU-LED followed the three pillars of innovation – feasibility, feasibility and convenience – to ensure that the demonstrations covered the foundations for an effective UAM implementation.
In June , demonstrations began with the Cranfield feasibility case , proving the readiness of the AMU-LED solution, technologies and systems. These tests are conducted by Cranfield University and will take place at Cranfield Airport, a unique facility that has its own air navigation service provider and air traffic controllers, in addition to its own pilots and aircraft.
This demonstration will be a prerequisite for subsequent demonstrations, proving that the AMU-LED solution is ready and safe to be tested in more complex environments. A second part of the Cranfield demo will take place in September .
After proving the feasibility of the AMU-LED solution in June, in August the project will continue to test the desirability of its solution in Amsterdam and Enschede , with a focus on public acceptance and social impact.
In Amsterdam, the tests are conducted by the Royal Netherlands Aerospace Center (NLR) and will take place in the heart of the city at Marineterrein.
Using a focus group to collect data, the team will conduct multiple flight demonstrations, testing different aspects of the U-space and certain indicators of public acceptance, such as noise, perceived safety, reliance on technology, privacy concerns, or visual pollution. Mitigation measures for the concerns raised by the focus group will be proposed based on the data collected.
Enschede will continue to demonstrate the social impact of UAM. Space53, a test and innovation center for unmanned systems, is in charge of this demonstration, which will take place between Space53’s location at the Technological Base and Twente Airport, and the city of Enschede.
Featuring various socially relevant use cases such as medical delivery, firefighting or police surveillance, this demonstration will prove the social impact UAM will create when implemented.
In Rotterdam , the economic viability of the UAM will also be demonstrated in August . This test is being coordinated by AirHub and will take place in the city’s port area.
It will be done in collaboration with the Port Authority of Rotterdam, which wants to investigate the feasibility of transporting ship crews directly from the ship to the hotel. Other use cases will also be presented, flying different UAVs and VTOL aircraft.
The city of Santiago de Compostela will host the final demonstration of the AMU-LED, where all the previous aspects – feasibility, feasibility and convenience – come together in one grand final show.
Coordinated by the technological center ITG – Fundación Instituto Tecnológico de Galicia, the demonstration will focus on the correct implementation of all aspects in urban environments, as the final showcase of how U-space can enable Urban Air Mobility. This will be demonstrated in September and October .
Throughout these demonstrations, the project team will collect data on the various aspects that are being tested, which will be further analyzed. This will allow the project to elaborate results for the development of U-space, providing information on the most efficient way to enable UAM, providing a safe, effective and viable solution for smart cities.