A realistic vision of the near-future of air mobility
While countless column inches have been written about the mass roll-out of drone-delivered pizzas and Amazon packages, the reality is a little less fanciful. No doubt, those fast-food and parcel deliveries will happen, but the first imperative is to modernise air traffic management and open up airspace for drone operators. Once that’s happened, Thales believes that, initially, only a few use-cases will proceed at speed. Namely:
- AAM/UAM – advanced air and urban mobility (AAM/AUM) solutions, in the form of eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) aircraft. Once certified, these ‘flying cabs’ will provide a high-end, bespoke taxi service in congested urban areas.
- Surveillance and monitoring – long-duration BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line Of Sight) flights to survey infrastructure and hazardous sites. There’s also a fast-developing use case for high-altitude pseudo-satellites (HAPS) to provide environmental surveillance.
- Blue-light and critical deliveries – where ground infrastructure is challenging due to geography or urban congestion.
It’s hard to argue against the usefulness and utility of the above and research shows the public is becoming more comfortable with the idea of drones providing specific services that benefit society – such as mail deliveries to the Isles of Scilly or conveying urgent medical supplies across congested towns and cities.
However, it’s worth noting that for all their potential drones have stubbornly shown their ability to cause disruption and nuisance – in particular, when flown too close to critical infrastructure such as airports, ports, and hospitals. Or around stadia or public buildings without authorisation.
As a result, any investment in technology to support drone services must include investment in developing counter-solutions (Counter-UAS) that prevent or mitigate their misuse, by accident or design.
And as highlighted in an article in The Times last month (paywall) the French Army is testing an anti-drone system, integrated by Thales, at this year’s Rugby world cup to protect stadia from unwanted drones. The plan is to deploy it fully for the Paris Olympics in 2024.