The First UIC^2 – the UAM (Urban Air Mobility) Initiative for Cities and Communities – Forum took place this morning at Amsterdam Drone Week, an international gathering of stakeholders in commercial drones, airspace regulation, and urban air mobility. Amidst a hall featuring the futuristic Airbus drone taxi prototype and a drone cage where an International Racing Championship takes place throughout the day, a diverse audience discussed the future of drones in cities.
Hosted by the city of Amsterdam, this first forum is the result of a year’s work by a group of stakeholders from “smart cities” across Europe, the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities (EIP-SCC) to work together and share their knowledge in order to facilitate the integration of drones into transportation solutions.
In the drone industry, drones as a mode of transportation is viewed primarily as a technical or regulatory problem – but the EIP-SCC and their members view drones as one part of a city solution. Looked at from the perspective of cities and citizens, urban air mobility and the idea of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) provide a fascinating view of a possible future where a daily commute could seamlessly include a bicycle, train and drone service all as part of an integrated public transportation system.
Imagine that the Metro card and the Uber account that you now use regularly to get around your community include methods of “micro transport” like bicycles and air transport, like drones, in addition to subways, buses, trains and cars. Taking city transportation systems into the third dimension – building up instead of building out – is a necessary solution to the growing problem of transportation in already crowded cities.
Lidewijde Ongering, Secretary General of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, says that transportation and traffic problems in cities across the world are just one result of a booming economy. Innovative solutions that include drones, says Ongering, are critical to supporting that economy. “The goals are clear: better connectivity, improved traffic flows, faster and better response to urgent transportation problems,” she says. “We are encouraging investors to help us shape the future – because one thing is sure, this future is coming.”
Director of Innovation and Deployment ERTICO ITS – Intelligent Transport Systems and Services – Europe, Dr. Johanna Tzanidaki, says that her organization aims for smart, safe and efficient mobility when they discuss MaaS. Smart cities are working towards major innovations in transportation: Access to data and integration of the data between modes of transport; interoperability of services; connected, automated, service-based and electric ecosystems; and public-private partnerships will all be part of the MaaS solution, a flexible and on-demand mobility as a service for urban and sub-urban regions.
But naming the elephant in the room, Tzanidaki points out an essential conflict in integrating UAS into city transportation system. “The big question is: are drones part of urban mobility, or part of aviation?” asks Tzanidaki. “MaaS is multi-modal – drones are part of the transport ecosystem,” she says. “It transcends borders – we are building a network of mobility. More and more we are moving towards integrating all of the modes – but we see that a lot of work needs to be done.”
Vassilis Agouridas, UAM Initiative Leader / EIP-SCC (Airbus) agrees that bringing air transportation into the vision is not just about unmanned traffic management (UTM) but about integration with ground infrastructure like electric car charging stations which might also be leveraged to charge drones. For successful development of MaaS, and the integration of urban air mobility with public transport, says Agouridas, cities need to be at the center of the discussion rather than technology. “Our initiative is city-centric and citizen driven,” says Agouridas. “Citizens don’t care about technology – they want integrated solutions. As a city, what you want is to ensure that you have multiople benefits for your citizens – and those solutions have to be socially and environmentally acceptable.”
“Cities are more than customers and users of UAM solutions, they are partners,” says Agouridas. With a growing partnership of more than 17 citiies who have signed a manifesto of intent to lead in the area of EU Urban Air Mobility, the organization is making an impact. “We are trying to spread the message of urban air mobility from the city point of view,” he says.