6–10 January 2020
Hyatt Regency Orlando,
Orlando, Florida

Cost, Cybersecurity Are Among Urban Air Mobility Challenges


Moderator Frank Morring Jr., retired space senior editor, Aviation Week & Space Technology; Ariane Cornell, head of astronaut strategy and sales, Blue Origin; Dan Dumbacher, AIAA executive director; Lon Levin, president and CEO, GEOshare; John Tylko, chief innovation officer, Aurora Flight Sciences

by Lawrence Garrett, AIAA web editor

AIAA SCITECH FORUM, San Diego, Jan. 9, 2019 — Panelists in the “On-Demand Mobility — Enabling Technologies and Capabilities” session discussed various barriers to advancing urban air mobility technologies and enabling the future envisioned in “The Jetsons.”

Doug Stanley, president and executive director of the National Institute of Aerospace, said UAM vehicles offer “the ability to fly anyone from here to there, anytime, anywhere” faster than cars. He also said they offer quieter and cleaner systems and potentially higher reliability and lower maintenance costs.

But, Stanley said, significant challenges — such as third-party liabilities and cybersecurity — must be addressed before UAM vehicles can enter the commercial market.

William Crossley, professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Purdue University, said weather also presents a challenge.

“If we’re going to displace other modes of transport, we have to operate in the same conditions as those other modes of transport,” he advised.

Founder and CEO of Advanced Aircraft Co. William Fredericks said affordability is a primary issue, and Brian German, Langley associate professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Aerospace Engineering, said powering UAM vehicles with batteries is another challenge.

“Until we reach some sort of magical threshold … we’re going to have to be very concerned,” German cautioned.

Eduardo Dominguez Puerta, vice president of UAM at Airbus, said public acceptance could be an issue and suggested cargo delivery could serve as a gateway for the UAM industry.

“Transportation of organs for urgency, catastrophe relief, things like this start to make these devices, I would say, interesting for society,” he said.


Participants in the panel discussion "On-Demand Mobility — Enabling Technologies and Capabilities,” Jan. 9 at the 2019 AIAA Science and Technology Forum and Exposition (AIAA SciTech 2019) in San Diego.

Noise is another concern, Fredericks warned. However, he compared the inevitable public acceptance of UAM vehicle noise to that of lawnmowers.

“I would say in the near term ... noise will be more of a challenge,” he said, adding, “once there is public acceptance and people are using it, probably the noise issue would be less acute.”

Bruce Holmes, founder and CEO of NextGen AeroSciences LLC, said solutions are needed for connectivity and cybersecurity problems.

“We’re in the precompetitive epic,” he said. “There is now an opportunity to get the foundations laid for these precompetitive problems.”

Stanley said that once autonomy is achieved, UAM vehicles will become part of everyone’s daily lives and operate from people’s driveways.

“I think one benefit of autonomy would be to free us up to be the true Jetsons vision,” he said.

Watch the full video for more details.

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