About UAM, RAM and AAM

As drone manufacturers, service providers, aviation authorities and related stakeholders continue with their groping efforts in their attempts to finger the pulse on the best ways to integrate drone technology into the lower atmosphere, the helpful analysts at Drone Industry Insights have added another explainer topic to help us understand AAM, UAM and RAM.

Just by dint of their sheer population figures, the potential for delivery and passenger drones as the holy grail of commercial drone applications in urban areas has been obvious since the concept of delivery drones moved from paper onto the physical ground.

Or into the air, as it were.

We think the efficiency of small cargo drones as an option for moving parcel in record and climate friendly time from one place to another was proved the first time E-Juba drone successfully completed the delivery of tuberculosis samples somewhere on the west coast of South Africa in 2015.

Since then, the remarkable work of Zipline, Wingcopter, Swoop Aero, Avy, AerialMetric and Rigitech in delivering medical supplies mostly in rural Africa has inspired even DJI itself, the doyen of small UAS technology; into building cargo drone.

That is because the possibilities for delivery drones are enormous, and the target is urban areas – where people live rushed lives, the road traffic is over-bursting and the carbon footprint is worrisome.

Little wonder then, that stakeholders in the industry have been forming consortia to figure out the best and safest way to integrate drone technology into urban and peri-urban airspaces. There are pilots for drone superhighways in Reading and New York; just as forward-thinking associations like the European Union have created research and trial groups around urban locations on the continent to try and their UAMs, their RAMs and AAMs off the ground.

Before that happens though; here is the DII, with an explainer of what all this is about and where it is going.

You can find the original article here.

The previous article about Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) stated that AAM is an overarching term that combines both Urban Air Mobility (UAM) and Regional Air Mobility (RAM).

And yet, this doesn’t truly do justice to the innovation and transformation that comes with both UAM and RAM.

Therefore, this latest instalment about AAM will elaborate more on the overlap and differences between UAM, RAM, and AAM. All three of these terms about the future of (air) mobility will have a similar-yet-varying impact on cities, suburbs, and the countryside, not to mention on aviation as a whole.

What is Urban Air Mobility (UAM)?

Oftentimes, people will use the term UAM when in fact they are referring to something closer to AAM (and vice versa).

Urban Air Mobility (UAM) includes traffic within a city as well as commuting from the outskirts.

Today, this kind of transportation is carried out mainly by cars, motorcycles, and buses, leading to traffic jams, delays, and a lot of headaches for many people.

Ultimately, the promise of Urban Air Mobility is irresistible: clean, cheap air transportation, instantly summoned with the tap of a finger on a smartphone. That is the vision that is fuelling a worldwide boom in electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) prototypes, with new aircraft emerging from hangars and press releases seemingly every month.

The vision to fly above these traffic jams in a quick and ecologically friendly pod is tempting and one of the main drivers for this industry. It includes airport shuttles, medical transports, commuter traffic, individual (taxi-like) transportation, as well as cargo/delivery. It is also appealing for cities that are separated by a river, mountains, or spread across islands.

And this promise of efficiency doesn’t end with the transport of people. Logistics – both Hub-to-Hub, as well as first and last-mile delivery – have a great interest in shipping goods quicker, at lower costs, and with a smaller ecological footprint.

Using fully-automated platforms to connect fulfilment centres up to end clients, is an almost too-good-to-be-true scenario, which further fuels this vision of UAM (as well as the billions worth of investments going into it).

What is Regional Air Mobility (RAM)?

Perhaps the least-used and most confused term in this group is Regional Air Mobility (RAM).

On one hand, many people will primarily understand RAM as a computer-related term (random access memory). On the other, even within air mobility, it is not often clear if RAM is being used for Regional Air Mobility or Rural Air Mobility.

Although there is technically no correct or incorrect meaning of RAM, the meaning Regional Air Mobility is perhaps the most useful for connecting UAM with a broader region that expands beyond suburbs and to rural areas.

After all, the chances are not high that someone would want to talk about a “rural air mobility” that excludes suburbs and cities. 

Beyond the urban centres of UAM, there are also villages, small towns in the countryside, islands, and municipalities separated by wide rivers, high mountains, and dense forests. These locations are not far enough for a plane to properly take off and reach cruising altitude, yet also not close enough to simply “take an air taxi” from vertiport to vertiport.

And this is precisely where Regional Air Mobility will thrive and offer a solution that currently only helicopters and small planes can match. 

Currently, helicopters offer limited capacity (for both persons and cargo) with distinctly high emissions (in terms of both noise levels and fuel).

Small planes still require runways and carbon fuels that eVTOLs and other passenger drones promise to eliminate.

Therefore, it is perhaps here in the least common air mobility term that new technologies are likely to make the most noticeable impact. After all, there are already other vehicles providing transport for short distances (e.g. cars, trains, and buses) as well as for long distances (e.g. conventional airplanes).

Among the best examples of regional transportation and RAM is Lilium’s plan to connect airports in the Bavarian cities of Munich and Nuremberg, as well as projects to connect islands in Greece or the Maldives.

What is Advanced Air Mobility (AAM)?

Finally, we turn our attention to the broader term of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM).

In essence, Advanced Air Mobility refers more generally to a new mode of transportation that uses relatively quiet, electrically powered, and potentially autonomous platforms (regardless of use within or outside of a city centre). As mentioned previously, AAM encompasses both aforementioned topics of UAM and AAM.

The integration of AAM into communities (both urban and rural) and their current infrastructures typically pivots around four major points. 

The first is safety and security: Just like small drones, large eVTOLs must prove their technical and operational safety and security.

The second is the public benefit: in addition to emergency services, increased travel options, and potentially reduced ground traffic, AAM also provides new economic opportunities and more connection to rural areas as well as “transportation deserts”, among other additional benefits.

Thirdly, there are adverse impacts such as visual and acoustic pollution, privacy concerns, increased traffic over residential areas, and the fear that the technology will only be available to a limited segment of the population.

Lastly, there is integration: the goal of AAM integration must be creating options to provide “urgent travel” and to consider the existing transportation landscape (e.g. over- or under-served areas), general accessibility, grid capacity, and social equity.

UAM, RAM, and AAM: Air Mobility and the Future

Whether it is UAM or RAM, the two biggest markets for the new air mobility solutions are passenger transportation (commuting, tourism, major events, and sightseeing) and cargo transport (urban and regional delivery).

For both markets, AAM has the potential to revolutionise urban and regional transport through reduced travel times and improved mobility options.

In addition, the industry can be scaled with relatively small amounts of capital compared to other more asset-intensive transport alternatives such as roads, airports, waterways, or train tracks.

The possible applications for AAM are far-reaching. This reach extends not only geographically but also chronologically. That is: AAM will have a lasting impact not only on the way we move around urban and regional space but also on the way we move around in the future.


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