Community acceptance will be the key driver when it comes to urban air mobility. That was the message from Pamela Cohn, Hyundai vice president of global strategy and operations at its urban air mobility division. In January, Hyundai, the Korean automaker, revealed a concept design for an eVTOL air taxi. While technology is important, particularly its ability to reduce aircraft noise, intelligently integrating it into a working ecosystem carries equal weight, she said. And that starts with public education.
Cohn, who led NASA’s 2018 urban air mobility market study while at consultancy McKinsey & Co., said that education has a long way to go. “I remember doing a bunch of focus groups with folks around the country in major cities,” she said. “We actually couldn’t get input from them on whether or not they would like to be part of an urban air mobility system because the concept was so foreign to them. The whole industry needs to think about how to better educate the public on what [urban air mobility] would look like on a day-to-day basis, whether they’re a passenger on one of these vehicles or simply part of the community.” Cohn said what is needed goes beyond market studies designed to determine where to place UAM operations.
She said the industry needs to “go, talk, and engage with the public and bring in simulations and virtual reality experiences” so that the public can “truly understand the look, feel, and touch of what the system is going to look like” and then take public input from that to “craft our strategy” to bring the right solution to a community. She said no one UAM player can do this alone and advocated a system-wide approach involving multiple stakeholders. “We need to partner with a range of people across ecosystems” including other OEMs, component and service providers, local governments, federal regulators, citizen interest groups, and local business councils. “The only way we are going to get good solutions is if urban air mobility truly meets the needs of our communities and we work hand-in-hand.”
Part of meeting that need is designing UAM so that it integrates with existing transportation infrastructure in a multi-modal way. “Urbanization is causing a lot of strain on cities already that's only going to get worse over time,” she said. “We can tailor our approach not just in terms of aircraft design, but in terms of the way that we actually integrate this into communities.” Cohn said this means “taking an integrated approach between the air domain and the ground domain and other forms of last-mile [transportation]. Urban air mobility is going to be a very important [transportation] component in some of the largest cities around the world. But we need to remember that infrastructure and services need to be integrated with ground transportation and other forms of last-mile transportation to make it a more efficient system that is truly tailored to consumer communities.”
Part of that requires a certain degree of future-casting what urban environments are likely to look like “in 10, 20, or 30 years,” factoring in diverse impacts from variables including economic development, accessibility, and infrastructure, she said.