Urban Air Mobility
Technology & solutions
Wednesday, 16 June 2021

What drones can learn from cars. And the other way around ...

Last month, Joost Vantomme, Smart Mobility Director at ACEA, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, joined the Amsterdam Drone Week Board of Recommendation. We asked Mr. Vantomme why the automotive industry is interested in air mobility, but also how he sees the future of mobility and transportation. “Mobility, or transport, as a service is an opportunity for the vehicle manufacturers in our industry.”

The main reason for Mr. Vantomme to join the Board of Recommendation is because the ACEA, the European manufacturers of cars, light commercial vehicles, trucks and busses “believes that there should be an integrated mobility approach”, Mr. Vantomme explains. “Urban air mobility has a lot of attention points. It’s not about roads and cars, vans, trucks and busses anymore. There’s also the air. And drones could also be part of the transportation mix for moving goods and people. We see some kind of complementarity. We want to be inclusive and exchange views and knowledge. Some of our members, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM’s), are actually having business units and subsidiaries into that specific area. We are keen to learn from each other’s ecosystem.”

Sanity check Like many other sectors, the automotive industry has been hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis. Fewer cars were sold, factories had to be closed, there still is a glaring shortage of microchips and semiconductors, inner cities were closed to cars and vans and people hardly travelled by collective and public transport means. All of this had an impact on the members of ACEA. “Like many other industries, we had to assess and rethink parts of our business models,” says Vantomme. “We still produce vehicles of course, that's clear. But it takes a new momentum now in this hyper connected mobility space. Are we still on the right track?”

According to Vantomme, the industry will focus primarily on safe, clean and smart mobility. "The twin objectives of the European Green Deal and digitalisation are here to stay and we deliver on our promise here. You have to think of different and cleaner fuels, electrification, but also of communication between vehicles and other vehicles, the road infrastructure, private businesses, all this in the interest of our customers and to increase efficiency and productivity of the driver and the transportation means.."

Accelerator
At the same time, the pandemic was an accelerator. Especially in the digital field and in the field of connectivity, but also for automated driving. "Automated driving has received a good kick-start and is now venturing into a promising future mobility.

And yes, that means that vehicles will pick up passengers independently within the foreseeable future, Vantomme thinks. “We have already made international agreements about this, for example about type approval, cybersecurity and safety.. However, there is still a whole world between today's ‘dumb’ vehicles and the future fully autonomous vehicles - on the ground and in the air. And before that happens, a lot of legislation and regulations will have to be amended. In addition, an autonomous vehicle must be able to sense and register what is happening around it (“digital twins” of the surrounding). And it is precisely in that area that we can learn a lot from drone techniques. Just like with drones, we must be able to copy reality, with all the behaviour of objects, people and other vehicles, to a virtual world, in which we can record all possible events. That's easier said than done. But in confined areas, such as at an airport where autonomous shuttles operate, it is being realized. And the drone industry can definitely learn from us there, because we have already gained a lot of experience and lessons learned. ”

Multi-sector approach
Vantomme is convinced that vehicle manufacturers will play a major role in the integration of ground-based mobility and air mobility in the near future. “That is exactly why I took part in the Board of Recommendation of the Amsterdam Drone Week. And don't worry, none of our members will suddenly start building drones tomorrow. But I am sure ACEA members will broaden their spectrum. We will enable the seamless mobility possibilities for our customers to go into a transport mode which can be road, train, metro, tram and bus or can be air mobility. Especially in cities. Mobility and transport as a service is a promising opportunity in our industry. ”

But before that happens, both sectors will first have to talk to each other. Vantomme: “We have done the same with the telecom and energy industries. Ten years ago we hardly knew anything about short range and mobile networks or the smart grids. Now we do. Because we work together so well within different, predefined, use cases. It is truly a multi-sector approach. And we want to explore similar opportunities with parties from the world of air mobility as well.”

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