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The Future of Travel with Urban Air Mobility (UAM)

By Nate Sirirojvisuth, PhD.May 21, 2020

The current global pandemic has impacted the aviation landscape in a dramatic way. We may never travel the same way we used to, ever. Business models and strategy for aerospace manufacturers must be reevaluated and adjusted to account for this new landscape. While we see many deals are falling through and programs getting cancelled, electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) development programs are still moving forward albeit slowly. For some companies, their entire existence depends on realizing the technology.

Distributed electric propulsion is one of the key technologies that will make vertical flight much more affordable. In addition to affordability, this breakthrough technology promises  to be quiet, safe, and sustainable. It opens new ways for movement of people and product. NASA recently announced an Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) project that will focus on understanding the implications of this emerging technology on the entire ecosystem in key areas such as air traffic management, vehicle technology and capability, safety, and computation and experimental tools.

On the other side of the fence, The United States Air Force (USAF) is jumping into the eVTOL caravan with the introduction of Agility Prime program. The main goal of the program is to accelerate the commercial market for advanced air mobility and leverage this advancement in other areas of application within USAF. They call these new breeds of vehicles orbs. These are not drones, helicopters, or airplanes which means that they will be used in a variety of different ways we have never imagined before. At last check, there are close to 270 new eVTOL vehicle concepts in various stages of development. We seem to be right there near the peak of the hype curve called the “peak of inflated expectation.” I am excited to see how many players will get over that peak. These new orbs need to demonstrate the value they provide to the society for them to be viable. In the next series of blogs and webinars, we will address various areas of AAM/UAM ecosystem from analytical standpoint in hope that our expertise will be part of the catalyst.