Currently, Urban Air Mobility (UAM) is all the rage. As an industry – we tend to bounce around every few months to a new “thing” which occupies all the press, chatter, and investment. In the past, it’s been Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS), package delivery, Detect and Avoid (DAA), Unmanned (or Universal) Traffic Management (UTM), Operations Over People (OOP), and Remote Identification (RID). All of these topics present significant challenges, and in no way am I indicating that they are not worthy of attention. Right now, it seems that UAM is climbing the hype cycle curve. (Literally as I’m writing this, NASA has decided the new name is Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) to reflect that we’re talking about a broader set of use cases than urban commuting.)
Apart from a tremendous amount of investment and effort going into designing actual aircraft (200+ at last count) – there is also a lot of thought being placed in the ecosystem and infrastructure that will support UAM/AAM in the future – from the way we plan buildings and even cities to the communications and navigation infrastructure required.
uAvionix is an avionics company – so we navigate in that direction – even if it is a bit less sexy than some of the fantastical vertiport artwork full of glass and trees in parklike settings. We are currently working with UAM/AAM manufacturers on specialized command and control (C2) and GPS navigation systems customized to the UAM/AAM operation. So, consider this piece a bit more on the practical side – what avionics will be needed on these aircraft – what functions will they perform, and how well will they have to perform? What follows are some predictions that are guiding uAvionix’s development in this space.
The first assumption that holds throughout this article is that UAM/AAM vehicles will be electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft. It is true that UAM business models are currently being trialed using traditional helicopters– Airbus owned Voom and Uber Copter are great examples – but for this exercise I’m looking to the future aircraft because ultimately, it doesn’t seem the business model will hold until we have aircraft that are less expensive to operate and maintain than the current helicopter fleet. Electric is the key to that success. Just like with electric cars, the projected lifetime costs for maintenance of electric aircraft are significantly lower than an aircraft with a complex piston or turbine
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