«Submission to European Transport Conference 2013 Title: Personal air vehicles as a new option for commuting in Europe: vision or illusion? Authors: ...»
Submission to European Transport Conference 2013
Title: Personal air vehicles as a new option for commuting in Europe: vision or illusion?
Authors: Decker, Michael; Fleischer, Torsten; Meyer-Soylu, Sarah; Schippl, Jens
All: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Institute of Technology Assessment and System Analysis
Corresponding author: firstname.lastname@example.org
Theme: Future mobility services
Based on preliminary findings from the FP7 project “MyCopter”, the paper assesses the presuppositions for and the potential implications of “personal air vehicles” as a future mobility service.
1 Introduction A broad range of technology trajectories can be observed enabling new mobility options and services in future transport system (Wiesenthal et al. 2011). Usually, Information and Communication technologies (ICT) are playing a key-role in this context. Well in line with the objectives of sustainable transport there usually is a focus on making transport modes cleaner (Skinner et al. 2010), reducing mobility needs or enabling a modal shift to more efficient modes of transport (Banister 2008, CEC 2011). But the future is open and hardly predictable, even if there surely is a potential for governing also complex socio-technical systems such as a transport system in a desired direction.
Nevertheless, it is always possible and should not be ignored that “surprises” emerge on the scene which have not been really anticipated by the majority of experts in the field. In an ex post analysis these development are reconstructed as “disruptive” innovations (Markides 2006). Prominent examples can be found in the ICT sector, with the extremely fast diffusion of personal computers and cell phones. To give an example from the transport sector: for long time it has not really been envisioned that the market penetration of e-mobility will make its first success story in the bicycle sector (Hurst 2013). “Disruptive” innovations are difficult to identify ex ante. However, foresight or “monitoring” activities are useful approaches to enable an early detection of such developments and to prepare for early measurers to support societal desirable innovation.
Against this background, this paper will have a closer look at the potentials of personal air vehicles (PAV) to gain market shares in the transport sector. The paper to be presented is based on work carried out in context of the FP7 project “MyCopter” (www.mycopter.eu).1 The central idea of the project is to avoid the typical problems associated with ground-based transportation by using the Please note: this paper is built up of content which was mainly produced by work package 7 of the myCopter project, major parts of the text were taken from the first two deliveries Del. 7.1 and Del. 7.2.(Meyer et al. 2011 & Fleischer et al.
2013) of this work package.
third dimension, combining the best of ground-based and air-based transportation. The solution pursued in MyCopter is the creation of a personal air transport system (PATS) that can overcome the environmental and financial costs associated with current methods of transport. To enable this personal air transport system PAVs are envisioned for traveling between homes and workplaces.
They should be flying at low altitude in urban environments. Such PAVs should be fully or partially autonomous without requiring ground-based air traffic control and operate outside controlled airspace. They should be designed in a way that allows for using battery based electric propulsion systems.
The paper will illustrate how scenarios for a future integration of PAVs into the transport system could look like and discuss whether more attention needs to be put on developments in the PAV sector regarding the preparation of transportation scenarios and policies for the coming decades.
According to the project specifications, the focus will be on commuting. Using examples from German cities (which are among the most congested cities in Europe (TomTom 2013) and where a financially strong group of potential “early adopters” can be expected) the paper assesses the presuppositions for and implications of a market penetration of PAVs. One scenario to be discussed will be offering air vehicles as a sort of taxi-like service, flying fully autonomous and carrying two people at maximum. But other scenarios will be outlined as well. Based on this work, it will be possible to provide a clearer picture on the advantages and disadvantages of PAVs – in particular with regard to potential impacts on sustainability.
2 The flying car an old and ongoing dream Visions about PAVs can be traced back to the early 20th century (Hall 2001) and found their way into tv series like the Jetsons but can also be found on magazine covers and newspapers (see Figure 1).
Adverts in the early 60th`s pictured the situation of Mr. and Mrs. America having not only one to several cars in their garage but also an airplane and perhaps even a small helicopter (N.N. 2005).
Figure 1: Picture showing the vision of a „helicopter for everybody“ and its use in daily life Source: Mechanix Illustrated, January 1951 Interestingly a book from 1945 from the American Historical Association about the potential of helicopters and personal airplanes sees the helicopter as a mode of travel complementing the car.
While the helicopter is thought to be a good solution for longer inter regional trips it is not seen as an answer for the transportation in urban areas.
“You can use your car in crowded congested urban areas and your helicopter for all other travel” (American Historical Association 1945) But this is exactly the challenge the MyCopter project wants to address, it is thought to be a solution for trips which are in our days prone to congestion which are mainly the trips to and from work ( de Borger 2009) during peak hours in the inner city areas.
Congestion is an area of growing concern, especially in the densely populated urban areas and regions in Western and Central Europe as well as in North America (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: Comparison of average and peak hour congestion levels in major European and North American cities (based on floating car data for Q2/2012 from TomTom) The overuse of transportation networks leads to increasing journey times, reduced reliability of the transportation system and adverse environmental impacts since congestion results in increased air and noise pollution and higher fuel consumption. Transportation economy scholars who discuss (and sometimes quantify) the economic impact of congestion – which, according to CEC data costs Europe about 1% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) every year (CEC 2006) – have identified time cost as the dominant factor of the overall congestion cost. In the Reference Scenario of the European Commission’s “Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area – Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system” of 2011, congestion costs are projected to increase by about 50%, to nearly 200 billion € annually, by 2050.
Approaches to deal with the congestion problem are manifold such as road pricing or incentives for avoiding peak hour travel (Eran & Dick 2011), building of new road infrastructure, use of ITC (Dimitrakopoulos 2012) and as a kind of niche strategy also the development of new transport modes such as PAVs. Nowadays, considerable amounts of demonstrators (also known as flying cars or roadable aircraft) are being developed, for some of them commercialization is announced to come soon.2 One recent development in this direction is the small company e-volo based in Karlsruhe (Germany) who has gained an immense media interest by their internet video showing the first manned flight of a purely electrically powered VTOL in 2011 (http://www.e-volo.com/). These approaches are often neglected in transport related visions and scenarios or simply denounced as being not realistic or outright fantastic.
3 The MyCopter project: central idea & approach
e.g. the Terrafugia Transition a dual-mode roadable Light Sport Aircraft for 2 persons, expected first delivery 2015 (Woodyard 2013) The project MyCopter is a project funded by the European Union under the 7th Framework Programme and involves six partners: the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, the University of Liverpool, the Ècole Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne, the ETH Zürich, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the DLR in Braunschweig. It is looking into the idea of personal air transportation via small air vehicles which are used in an urban context for the purpose of commuter traffic.3 The challenge the project wants to address is the problem of road congestion mainly during rush hours. In order to do this the idea is to take aspects seen as helpful from the two –until now- quite separated and for different trip lengths used air- and ground transport systems.
In the commercial air traffic sector trips are generally a few hundred kilometers, the travel speeds are much higher than with the ground based transport modes (car, train, tram etc.) and the vehicle is controlled – in contrast to the private car – by a trained person and not self-operated by the user itself. In contrast to the car, which can most of the times be used straight away without much preparation time and is often located really close to the users point of departure, this is seldom the case for an air trip. Air travels are bound to specific locations for their starts and ends, but these locations are seldom the desired destinations. This means that pre- and after trip distances are to overcome and other forms of transportation might be required. One disadvantage of the commercial air transportation system is the time loss connected with the surrounding procedures such as check in and security controls which are reducing the potential advantage of the higher travel speed. It will therefore be important to also look at these pre- and after trip procedures and necessities for the PAV system.
As already mentioned in the context of MyCopter the focus is on the target group commuter and the offer of an alternative to the private car use. The “commuter scenario” addressed in the project consists of rather short trip distances of at most 100km (bidirectional) and is therefore firstly looking into “intra city” or “outskirts to city” transportation rather than inter-city transportation. The shorter trip distances do put less pressure on the speed requirement for the PAVs itself and the speed range will therefore be more oriented towards car rather than aircraft capabilities.
The more general vision of small vehicles being able of short or vertical takeoffs and landings (STOL/VTOL) used by the general public for their daily commutes was further refined by the project consortium in order to be able to touch deeper questions and consider challenges associated with the design and mission of the vehicle itself more precisely.
4 Reference PAV & Travel Scenarios In order to do this so called travel scenarios were developed which consist of five modules. Every module is characterized by its position in the flight procedure: start, in flight or landing and the settlement density in which it occurs (see Figure 3).
Figure 3: Division of flight procedure according to settlement density into five modules The settlement structure was seen as a key point in the discussion which determines much of the required infrastructure on the ground but has also strong consequences for the internal design of the PAV itself (e.g. maneuverability on the ground, sensor equipment…).
Below follows a short description of every module which points out questions arising from the specific start or landing situation.
Module 1: Starting from Your City Block Here the concept is that the PAV user lives in a densely populated urban district and wants to start from there to commute to work. Questions arise, such as how the user gets to its PAV, if the PAV is able to drive on streets (to get to a take-off area for example), and how communication with other flying vehicles in the air and to the target location is accomplished. Further key aspects are the location, the organisation, and the equipment of the take-off sites as well as the exchange of information regarding weather situation and air traffic.
Module 2: Starting from a Suburb / own Property
The idea in this module is that the user lives in a sparsely populated neighbourhood. The PAV could be parked in the user’s own garden, the question would be if he can and is allowed to start from
there. The own property would probably be less well equipped than take-off areas in module 1:
Therefore, refuelling and availability of detailed information (weather, air traffic) could be tricky. The advantage would probably be less traffic in the take-off area and in the air.
From these two modules, questions arise, for example, regarding the size of the PAV itself (implication for storing options), its ability to manoeuvre actively on the ground or to be moved, and regarding the big issue of noise disturbance.
Module 3: Flying Phase During the flight the autopilot would probably be in charge and the main task for the PAV or the system would be navigation, the avoidance of mid-air collisions, and, optionally, the joining of other PAVs to form swarms. Alternatively, the user could be in the loop and could control the PAV, however, assisted by the system.
This module shows that different levels of automation are thinkable, one level representing full automation and another one representing partial automation where the user still has some control and needs pilot skills with all its resulting consequences in terms of cockpit design, training requirements, etc.. Additionally, this module illustrates again the need for communication or data exchange between different vehicles and gives a hint on what requirements might exist in terms of navigation and sensors.
Module 4: Landing in CBD