Building an Economic Ecosystem for Urban Air Mobility

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Building an Economic Ecosystem for Urban Air Mobility

Every day, millions of hours are wasted on the road worldwide. The average San Francisco resident spends 230 hours annually commuting between work and home —that works out to half a million hours of productivity lost every single day. In Los Angeles and Sydney, residents spend seven “working weeks” each year commuting, two of which are wasted unproductively stuck in gridlock. In many global megacities, the problem is even more severe; for example, the average commute in Mumbai exceeds 90 minutes. For all of us, that’s less time with family, less time at work growing our economies, more money spent on fuel—and a marked increase in our stress levels. A study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, for example, found that those who commute more than 10 miles were at increased odds of elevated blood pressure. In many U. S. cities including Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, and New York, commutes have become an enormous economic drain and cause of personal stress.

In a 2015 research paper, a NASA scientist named Mark Harmon concluded that this “commute time” could be reduced dramatically using air vehicles that flew over traffic. And, his vision fit well with the ride-sharing “demand model” pioneered by Uber and Lyft.

This immediately resonated with the Trends editors. Over 30 years ago, they identified the idea of Personal Air Vehicles, also known as “flying cars,” as a compelling solution that would evolve into a game-changing industry. The challenge was to create an economically viable business model by harnessing a suite of evolving digital technologies. Like the Trends editors, top management at Uber, immediately saw the enormous transformational potential embodied in Harmon’s concept.

So, Uber hired Harmon and created a business unit called Uber Elevate to address the opportunity. At the same time, a German company called Lillium has launched its own effort also based on the ride-sharing model.

The monumental challenge Uber and Lillium both face can be summarized as “delivering a safe, cost-effective, reliable, and quiet aerial commuting solution using technologies and infrastructure that are available in the near-term.” Overcoming this challenge this involves an amazing number of “chicken and egg” dilemmas that can be boiled down to one harsh reality: “No one is willing to invest the capital and manpower needed to create the regulatory, infrastructure, vehicular, energy delivery, and marketing assets needed for this new industry, unless there is a high probability that the other necessary components will be in place to make the complete system economically viable...

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