This way of getting around is something that we have seen time and time again described in science fiction literature and movies (The fifth Element, anyone?), and to be honest some of us never thought this would happen in our lifetime. Yet, with the rapid progress made in this nascent industry, it is becoming increasingly clear that advanced air mobility, as the concept of VTOL transport is also known, should be upon us in a few decades.
But creating a safe environment for UTVs goes far beyond building machines to transport people in the air. Our society, despite the large number of airplanes that fly, is predominantly land-based, and at least as far as cities go, all the traffic rules and ideas have been built around that.
VTOLs would need a whole new set of rules and technology to rule their existence and that’s all that stands in their way, not physical obstacles. But not for long, because the work of change has already started in several parts of the world.
Here in the United States, it was NASA that took on the task of developing an air traffic management system for air mobility technology. The space agency, increasingly involved in what’s going on here on Earth, is working on something called ATM-X, or Air Traffic Management eXploration.
The project aims to develop “Innovative technological solutions that remove barriers to transforming today’s air transport system and enable large-scale access for new aircraft, while improving current flight operations.” “ The plan is to deliver to the world, very soon, with the “Digitally integrated air transport system” he has to operate VTOLs, whether in the form of delivery drones, air taxis, or whatever.
What’s important to note is that the eXploration is just getting started, but it is moving very fast. It debuted in June 2020 and by the end of next year it should be ready to be put to the test in a series of protests.
The concept incorporates all the different elements that should work in synchronization to enable safe air transport, including cloud computing, communication systems and even autonomous technologies. And that means a large number of industry players, including the FAA, will be involved to make it a reality.
eXploration has four major sub-projects in preparation, namely the digital information platform, airspace management for urban air mobility, airspace research with autonomous vehicles and scalable management of the traffic.
The digital information platform is designed as the place where all available and relevant data for VTOL steering wheel, regardless of its source, is stored for viewing by interested parties. “This capacity will provide the data necessary for airspace management and for users of the airspace system of the future”, NASA said.
Airspace Management for Urban Air Mobility is designed to provide the technologies required to manage increasingly congested urban airspace, particularly for machines flying less than 5,000 feet (1.5 km).
Pathfinding for Airspace with Autonomous Vehicles is a fancy name for a team working on “Develop increasingly autonomous planes that will revolutionize the way we transport goods across the United States”, or more precisely on the creation of the tools necessary for the operation of unmanned or autonomous civilian drones.
Finally, the Extensible Traffic Management sub-project, which aims to put in place the procedures allowing “Routine unmanned aircraft access to our national airspace”.
exploration aims to deliver these solutions by 2045, and work is being carried out by the Ames, Glenn and Langley research centers. However, it is open to all interested parties who feel they have good ideas to offer.